Gov. Walker signs state budget in Waukesha ahead of expected presidential run
By Peter Zervakis, WQOW News
WAUKESHA (WKOW/AP) – Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a new, two-year state budget into law Sunday, approximately 24 hours before he's expected to announce his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“With this budget, the taxpayers come first,” Walker told a crowd at manufacturing business Valveworks USA in Waukesha.
Walker said the approximately $73-billion state budget lowers property taxes.
He also said the budget freezes tuition for in-state, undergraduate students at the UW campuses for the third and fourth years in a row.
“We're proud to say we made college more affordable for students and working families all across Wisconsin,” Walker said.
But Democrats blasted the $250-million cut to the UW System also contained in the budget.
“Employers are clamoring for a skilled workforce,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) at a news conference at the Waukesha Labor Temple. “So to gut the UW System several times, in several budgets, thanks to Governor Walker and his fellow Republicans, is to essentially set us up for a further workforce shortage.”
The budget also contains a partial repeal of the state's prevailing wage law.
The prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum pay rate for laborers working on public construction projects, will no longer apply to projects overseen by local units of government.
“I think (the partial repeal) will make a difference for workers, for schools and for municipalities to be able to say, 'we can get the best price possible,' for those projects,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) who co-chairs the legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
But Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said the changes to the prevailing wage law would lower wages for workers.
“It'll bring down wages and bring down middle class people,” Barca said.
Barca also took aim at Walker's expected presidential campaign announcement, scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Monday at the Waukesha County Expo Center.
Barca said he believes Walker is using the state budget to appeal to Republican primary voters.
“This budget is much more a right-wing, primary campaign document than it is a governing document,” Barca said.
Walker made no mention of the scheduled announcement during his comments ahead of signing the budget Sunday. But he did take a slight shot at federal lawmakers.
“The difference between Wisconsin and Washington D.C. Is that we actually get things done,” Walker said.
“This is another example of getting things done that benefit the people of the State of Wisconsin,” Walker said.
In total, the Governor exercised 104 vetoes on the budget that passed the legislature before signing it.
Walker amended a budget provision requiring certain recipients of FoodShare to pass a drug test.
Walker's original proposal called for the state to administer tests to some FoodShare recipients based on a screening questionnaire.
The original budget proposal called for the state to pay for treatment programs for those who failed a drug test.
In his vetoes, Walker opted to eliminate the screening questionnaire in the drug testing policy for FoodShare recipients, instead making the drug testing random.
The budget provision was also amended to specify that those FoodShare recipients who test positive must have their private health insurance pay for the drug treatment programs if they have it.
The state would only step in and pay for the treatment if a FoodShare recipient who tested positive is uninsured.
Walker vetoed a measure that would have exempted the Hill Farms construction project from City of Madison zoning ordinances.
Walker also vetoed a budget provision mandating that 50 percent of the revenue from DNR land sales are put towards new stewardship and land purchases. Walker amended the budget to specify 100 percent of sale revenues must be put towards debt service.
Other notable items in the budget include:
-- Public school funding: It won't be cut by $127 million as Walker proposed, but there won't be much more money. Funding will be flat the first year of the budget and go up by about $69 million in the second year, but schools aren't being given the authority to increase spending. That means if a district does get more aid, it will have to divert it to lowering property taxes unless voters approve a special referendum.
-- Vouchers: More students who meet income qualifications will be able to attend private voucher schools because the current 1,000-student statewide enrollment cap changes to no more than 1 percent of a district's total students. That will increase 1 percentage point a year for 10 years until there is no cap. Money to pay for voucher students will come out of public school aid. Also, students with disabilities who are denied open enrollment in another public school district will be able to use a voucher for private schools.
-- School Ratings: A new five-star system will have no sanctions for poor performers. Federal law currently requires schools to take the same standardized test, but Wisconsin will seek a waiver to allow for schools to choose between three and five standardized tests to measure performance.
-- Civics test: Starting in the 2016 school year, high school students will have to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions on a civics exam before graduation. They could retake the test until they pass.
-- Sports: Home-schooled students will be able to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school.
-- Milwaukee schools: The worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools could be converted into independent charter or private voucher schools under control of a commissioner appointed by the county executive.
-- The state will borrow $850 million for road projects, down from Walker's $1.3 billion proposal. That will mean delays in major highway projects and resurfacing and reconstruction work.
-- The budget makes a number of changes to state taxes, including increasing the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly by $550, delaying the full phase-in of an income tax credit benefiting manufacturers and farmers, reducing the alternative minimum tax, allowing teachers to deduct up to $250 a year for classroom expenses and reducing taxes on hard cider. Property taxes will be held basically flat, and there are no increases in sales or income taxes.
-- The law that sets a minimum salary for construction workers on public projects like road building and schools will be repealed for local governments but remain for state projects.
-- Family Care and IRIS programs that strive to keep elderly people and those with disabilities out of nursing homes could be reshaped under budget provisions to allow for-profit managed care organizations to compete with networks of nonprofit groups that currently provide long-term care and ordinary medical care if the state gets federal approval.
-- Recipients of public aid programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits will have to undergo initial screenings for drug use and could be subjected to drug tests later.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
-- The university system's budget will be cut by $250 million and make it easier to fire tenured faculty. Also, faculty will have less of a role in making decisions. In-state tuition will be frozen over the next two years.
-- Fees for Wisconsin state parks will go up by $3 for annual admission and by $1 for daily admission. Camping fees for residents will increase $3 to $5 per night depending on a site's popularity; out-of-staters will pay an extra $5 to $8. The cost of an annual trail pass will go up $5. The fee increases will help offset the end of tax support for state parks.
-- There may be more places to backpack, ski or snowshoe. The budget committee authorized the state's stewardship program to borrow $9 million per year for land acquisition. That's down dramatically from $19.3 million next year and $22.2 million in each of the following fiscal years through 2020, however.
-- The budget cuts 17.5 researcher positions from the Department of Natural Resources' Sciences Services Bureau, which has worked on issues such as pollution and mining. The bureau will have 12.85 researcher positions left.
--About half-a-dozen nonprofit conservation organizations won't get about $1 million in grants after the governor vetoed the money out of the budget.
-- Republicans eliminated Walker's plan to provide $55 million in Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. grants to regional groups for loans to businesses after a series of audits found WEDC has failed to track past-due loans, failed to follow state contract law and hasn't demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they've created jobs.
-- Prison towers will stand empty during the night, as 60 third-shift tower guard positions across 10 prisons will be eliminated, saving nearly $6 million. Those employees will be moved into other vacancies.
-- Counties couldn't force companies that are building oil pipelines to purchase additional insurance, a provision that will help Canada-based Enbridge Energy finish work on an expansion that has been held up for months in Dane County.
SEVEN-DAY WORK WEEK
--Factory and retail employees will be allowed to volunteer to work seven straight days, a change from current state law that says those workers must get at least 24 consecutive hours of rest for every seven-day stretch.