Walker signs state budget
Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2013-15 state budget into law Sunday, saying that it provides nearly $1 billion in tax relief to Wisconsin families, $322 million in additional state aid for public schools, and a $100 million investment in workforce development.
This budget is a sharp contrast from where we were two years ago," Walker said during the bill signing in Pleasant Prairie.
"Our structural reforms, coupled with tough, but prudent, decisions, have led to a great investment in the people of Wisconsin. We focused on making life better for the residents of our state, and this budget builds upon a solid foundation for the future."
In signing this budget, Walker made 57 vetoes. Among them an idea added by legislators to allow bounty hunters for bond jumpers in five counties. These bail bond agents have been outlawed here for decades.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen opposed the idea as did other law enforcement officials.
One item included in the budget, and left by the governor, was to make the "kringle" - a fruit-filled pastry - the official state pastry. Lawmakers had said the item would bring fame to the Racine area, where kringles are made.
Walker said this budget finds the state in an improved condition from two years ago when the state faced a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
"Together, we made tough, but prudent, decisions and addressed the root of the problem," he said. "Because of those tough decisions, Wisconsin created a $670 million budget surplus."
Walker signed the budget bill at Catalyst Exhibits, a company that relocated its operations from Crystal Lake, IL to Pleasant Prairie, bringing over 100 jobs to the state.
The budget, said Walker, provides nearly $1 billion in tax relief for state taxpayers, including $650 million in individual income tax relief.
"This is the largest income tax cut in 14 years, and the largest income tax rate reductions go to those making between $15,000 and $50,000."
The tax reforms reduce income tax brackets, put more money in the hands of consumers so they, in turn, can help grow the economy, and make Wisconsin more competitive with other states, he said.
Walker said this budget invests $380 million in new state funds for public education and quality educational opportunities for students throughout the state. "This includes a $322 million investment in our public schools."
The budget will cap the University of Wisconsin (UW) System's tuition for two years.
The budget also opens the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program to all school districts. The expansion will be capped at 500 students statewide in 2014 and 1,000 students statewide for 2015.
Under this budget provision, Milwaukee and Racine students do not count toward the cap and no more than one percent of students from any school district will be allowed to participate.
Students must be from families with income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. The budget also requires these "choice" schools to maintain their accreditation each year.
Walker said the budget will also ensure that more people have access to affordable health care.
"We will cover every person living in poverty under Medicaid, which means we will cover an additional 82,000 childless adults," he said. "It will also cover people living in poverty through Medicaid and allow individuals above that level to access affordable health insurance coverage through the federal health insurance exchange."
Under the plan, Wisconsinites in poverty will be covered by Medicaid and those above poverty (up to four times the poverty level) would receive federal health insurance premium subsidies to purchase health insurance offered in the exchange.
The budget will eliminate the waiting list for BadgerCare Plus Core plan, providing coverage to thousands of Wisconsinites currently in need of coverage, Walker said.
The budget will also fund a $685 million increase in state funds for Medicaid just to cover the cost to continue the current program.
Changes mandated by the federal government account for 39 percent of that increase. "Wisconsin will provide that essential safety net to help those in need, while safeguarding Wisconsin taxpayers from the financial uncertainty coming from Washington, DC," Walker said.
"Our plan safeguards Wisconsin taxpayers from unnecessary risk and builds on Wisconsin's strong track record of providing affordable health care to its people."
The 2013-15 $70 billion state budget was signed just in time to go into effect beginning, July 1.
VETO ON REPORTING
Walker also vetoed an item in the budget that would have removed the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from the UW-Madison and prohibited teachers there from working with the center.
The budget item had been placed there by the Joint Finance Committee during their budget deliberations.
This budget will still leave a $500 million structural deficit to be dealt with in the 2015-17 biennial budget.
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) called the budget "extreme" and said it "fails the middle class and will continue to take Wisconsin down the wrong path.
"Despite numerous opportunities to improve this budget, the governor and Republican legislators actually kept making it worse for public schools, property taxpayers and people who count on basic services," Barca said.
The governor's budget expands taxpayer-funded private voucher schools statewide while failing to restore massive public school cuts made in the last budget, he said.
"It gives people making more than $300,000 more than 10 times the tax break it gives to the average working family," said Barca "It rewards special interests who want to prey on consumers while middle-class families get left behind. And it includes what may be the worst decision made in our state in a generation - a health care plan that covers 85,000 fewer people and costs taxpayers an additional $120 million."
The budget signed two years ago by Walker is one of the primary reasons Wisconsin stands 38th in the nation in job growth - and at or near the bottom by any objective economic measure, Barca said.
"Not only does this budget fail to reverse that damage, it actually doubles down on an economic agenda that has devastated Wisconsin over the past two and a half years."