Walker touts investment priorities - Dems critical of budget proposal

By Lauren French and Chris Vetter, Leader Telegram

After formally proposing his two-year state budget to the Legislature on Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker is making rounds to tout investment priorities.

“Reforms we’ve enacted over the last six years have put us in a position where we have a significant reform dividend that we are now investing in our priorities,” Walker said Friday afternoon on the Gateway Campus of the Chippewa Valley Technical College. “Those are overwhelmingly workforce, which means education and student success.” 

Walker told the crowd gathered at CVTC that priorities for the reform dividend also include relieving burden on taxpayers and investing in infrastructure, including roads and broadband access in rural areas. He made similar stops on Friday in Platteville and New Richmond in addition to Eau Claire. 

Large investments listed in Walker’s budget proposal include over $100 million more for the UW System, a $649 million increase in per-pupil aid and overall education funding for K-12 school districts and nearly $600 million in reduced taxes and fees. Since the budget was released, some wonder where the money for those investments comes from. Walker said it is state revenue generated from a healthier economy based on a low unemployment rate and higher wages.

Local UW leaders praise Walker for his higher education investments, but his proposals face some skepticism.

Area Democrats were critical of Walker’s budget plan, saying more should be invested in roads and that additional money spent on education doesn’t make up for cuts over Walker’s tenure.

“It is promising there is more money going into education, but bear in mind the history there,” said Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire. “While it’s good that money is being redirected back into education, he’s the reason there’s been a hole.”

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said the significant cuts to higher education in recent years have meant the loss of quality professors and research programs.

“You can’t make up for for the research you lose out on,” she said, adding that UW-Madison recently fell off a ranking of the top five research institution. “This budget doesn’t repair the long-term damage done to education,” Shankland said.

Both Wachs and Shankland said they liked the idea of a $200 per pupil increase, but they questioned it extending to students in voucher school programs, and they preferred the money go through an equalization aid formula.

“It really benefits suburban districts that are already doing well,” Shankland said.

Wachs was critical of the level of funding for infrastructure, saying the road system is falling into disrepair.

“We can’t let that incredibly important resource crumble,” Wachs said.

Wachs said that toll roads are “an option we need to take a look at,” but he added that he doesn’t want to add a regressive tax.