There were some surprises in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget. Local leaders and state lawmakers expressed both concern and optimism over the $68 billion budget.
Highlights from the budget include a tax cut for the middle class, more money for voucher schools and tougher Medicaid requirements.
Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said this was the best budget outcome for municipalities of the past three state budgets.
“Municipalities suffered deep cuts in the last two budget cycles,” he said.
He said it has been disappointing.
“Municipalities are justifiably disappointed that the state didn't value our services enough to justify at least a cost of living increase.”
Arft said it will be interesting to see the debate as the budget goes through the legislature.
Walker’s budget also called for the possible elimination of residency requirements statewide. Arft said that move would be a unique step for the state.
“That would be quite striking,” Arft said. “That is a pretty standard position for most municipalities in the nation. That would be quite unique. If it is that is broad and very intrusive in local control.”
State Rep. Deb Kolste, D-Janesville, Walker cut $1.6 billion from public education in the 2010 budget and this new budget returns only a tiny portion of that while funneling money to voucher schools.
“The attack on public schools is an attack on working and middle class families,'' Kolste said. “Good public schools drove prosperity in this state and nation for decades.''
Kolste noted that some legislative Republicans have criticized the expansion of voucher schools and the rejection of the federal Medicaid money.
“I am hopeful but not confident that common sense will prevail and some of the worst aspects of this budget are changed,'' she said.
State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said she felt “very positive” about this year’s budget.
“We have the benefit of going in with a surplus,” she said. “Even though there are always tough choices and decisions to be made I think we will have a little bit of an easier time.”
State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, said he is troubled by Walker’s actions that he thinks hurts public education and health care in Wisconsin.
“Instead of investing in public schools that serve all our children, Governor Walker plans to spend more of our tax dollars on unaccountable, private voucher schools,” Jorgensen said. “He’s also turning down a deal to expand BadgerCare — and in the process, turning down 10,500 new jobs and affordable health care for 175,000 of our friends and neighbors. I am calling on my Republican colleagues to join me and my fellow Democrats to create a better budget for middle class families. Last term, we were able to reverse the governor’s plan to end SeniorCare, so I know we can work together. I hope that we can do it again.”
State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, said the state is starting out on the right path and footing “after more than a decade of multi-billion dollar budget deficits.”
He said the budget will be discussed at length and is “confident the end result will be a budget that reaffirms our commitment to public education, health care, workforce development, the state’s infrastructure, and most importantly the taxpayers of Wisconsin.”
“I look forward to a spirited debate among my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as we work towards a state budget that moves Wisconsin and our shared priorities forward,” he said.
“Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker used his 2013-15 budget address to spin phrases designed to create an illusion that his plans for education are in the best interest of citizens,” said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC). “Parents, teachers, education support professionals, school board members and administrators see past the lip-service and recognize that flat-lining public school funding while at the same time expanding taxpayer funding for private schools will harm neighborhood public schools.
“Wisconsin children deserve an education budget that doesn’t hand out taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private vouchers. Neighborhood public schools need adequate per-pupil funding that acknowledges a cost-of-living increase. If our governor won’t stand strong for public schools, it’s up to state legislators to get the job done.”