Tag Archives: John Nygren

Wisconsin’s opioid epidemic rages on, critics charge response is lame

Opioids are still killing people by the hundreds in Wisconsin even though legislators have passed nearly 20 bills to curb addiction over the last three years, prompting critics to demand lawmakers think bigger and pump more money into the fight.

Gov. Scott Walker has called a special legislative session to pass nearly a dozen additional bills designed to combat opioid addiction. Social justice groups and civil rights advocates say the package nibbles around the edges of the problem, threatens personal liberties and doesn’t invest nearly enough in prevention. Legislators have repeatedly said there’s no magic solution to stopping opioid abuse. Still, rumblings that the state needs to do more are growing louder.

Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is spearheading an awareness campaign called “Dose of Reality,” says people haven’t paid enough attention to the opioid issue and now it’s threatening to overwhelm the state.

“I get what the critics are saying,” Schimel said. “If we saw car crashes at the rate of opioid abuse, we would do crazy things. Build roundabouts every two miles, raise the driving age, lower speed limits. As a nation we’ve taken too long to take this epidemic seriously.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures says it tracked more than 500 state bills dealing with prescription drug abuse in 2016. Karmen Hanson, a program director at NCSL, says a similar number is expected this year.

Walker has signed 17 bills — all from state Rep. John Nygren, whose daughter has struggled with a heroin addiction — since 2013 to address opioids. Dubbed the HOPE Agenda, the bills include measures that require identification to pick up opioid prescriptions, provide immunity for people who report overdoses, create rural treatment programs, allow first responders to carry overdose antidotes and allocate $2 million annually toward treatment programs.

But people keep dying.

According to state data, 1,524 people died of opioid-related overdoses between 2013 and 2015 compared with 1,381 people over the previous three-year period. The data shows 622 people died in 2014 and 614 in 2015, the two highest annual death totals since 2003.

It looks like 2016 was no better. According to the most recent figures, 540 people died of opioid overdoses over the first nine months of last year alone. That’s almost 100 more people than during the first three quarters of 2015.

Walker this month declared opioid addiction a health crisis and called a special legislative session to enact 11 more bills.

The legislation would grant immunity to addicts who overdose; allow school nurses to administer overdose antidotes; allocate $420,000 annually for four more state Justice Department drug agents; lay out $200,000 over the next two years to expand a pilot drug screening program in high schools; and allow addicts to be civilly committed.

Critics aren’t impressed.

“The special session is a step in the right direction but falls far short of what is needed to make a significant dent in the opioid problem,” said Jon Peacock, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families research director.

Julie Whelan Capell runs the high school drug screening program in six school districts. The program could make a huge difference, she said, if Walker took it statewide. Legislative fiscal analysts project that would cost $1.8 million, but Capell said prevention is Wisconsin’s best hope. Robert Kraig, executive director of the group Wisconsin Citizen Action, complained the new bills spend more on drug agents than screening.

“This is an epidemic,” Kraig said. “We’re beyond pilot programs.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, contends the civil commitment bill would deprive opioid users of personal liberty without due process.

Nygren’s office didn’t respond to a message. Schimel said fighting opioids is difficult because they’re so pervasive. He cited statistics from the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health that show about 163,300 Wisconsin adults and 68,600 young adults used heroin or another opiate between July 2013 and July 2014.

“Our treatment capacity can come nowhere near to addressing that,” he said.

Still, Walker’s call for a special session shows top government officials now understand the depth of the problem, Schimel said.

He said he wasn’t sure if expanding high school drug screening would be appropriate or effective. He noted that beginning April 1 doctors and dentists will have to consult a statewide prescriptions database to ensure patients aren’t shopping around for opioids, a Hope Agenda mandate. Schimel predicted the state will see a decline in opioid prescriptions after the requirement takes effect.

As for concerns about civil commitment for addicts, Schimel said a mental health facility would be a more humane place to go through withdrawal than jail. He promised addicts would still receive due process.

“There are things in (the special session legislation) that people don’t see as significant, but I do,” Schimel said. “We’ve got to keep beating this drum. This is the worst public safety and public health crisis we’ve seen in this state in many, many decades. Possibly ever.”

GOP created state’s transportation budget problems but can’t fix them

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Jennifer Shilling said in an interview with The Associated Press that it’s not up to Democrats to come up with a plan to plug a projected $1 billion transportation budget shortfall. Republicans have been in complete control of the governor’s office and Legislature since 2011 and will return in 2017 with even larger majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

“Republicans own this,” Shilling said of the transportation problem. “They own this Legislature right now. I don’t think it’s up to the minority party to have all the answers.”

Democrats have proposed broadening the base of funding for the state’s transportation budget, including raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Whether to even consider higher taxes and fees is dividing Republicans.

Assembly GOP leaders have said everything should be considered. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos advocates for considering tax and fee increases. He distributed a briefing document to Republican lawmakers and reporters titled “No Easy Answers.”

That’s the message Democrats were delivering on the campaign trail, Shilling said.

“We can have a role in finding things that are acceptable,” she said. “Clearly Democrats can propose something but it’s the Republicans who are in control of the governor’s office and Senate and Assembly right now. And the Republicans are fighting right now. It’s like the right hand doesn’t agree with what the far right hand is wanting to do.”

Fourth worst in the nation

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Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling

Gov. Scott Walker has insisted he won’t raise taxes to pay for roads, unless there’s a corresponding cut someplace else. Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said he won’t pass a roads funding plan that Walker would veto, and two Republican senators earlier this week spoke out in opposition to raising taxes.

At a public hearing Dec. 6, Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said the condition of Wisconsin’s roads will worsen over the next 10 years and projects will be delayed for decades without an increase in spending.

The U.S. Department of Transportation ranks Wisconsin’s roadways as the fourth worst in the nation.

Gottlieb’s department’s budget would borrow half a billion dollars over the next two years and save nearly half a billion more dollars by delaying work on major projects. Shilling said Democrats agree with some Republicans who are arguing that more borrowing is not the answer to paying for the state’s roads and other transportation needs.

Democrats return to the Senate with their smallest numbers since 1971. Republicans will have a 20-13 majority there and a 64-35 majority in the Assembly. That is their largest since 1957.

Gottlieb testified on Dec. 6 that the percentage of Wisconsin roads in poor condition would double to 42 percent over the next decade, projects could be delayed for decades, and incoming revenue will not keep pace with inflation.

Even so, Gottlieb defended the department’s two-year budget proposal, which he said was written under orders from Walker not to increase the gasoline tax or raise vehicle fees.

“The governor has made a determination this is not the right time to raise taxes on Wisconsin businesses and families,” Gottlieb said.

Walker has always preferred borrowing money to be paid for at a later date — presumably when he’s out of office — over raising taxes and fees. As Milwaukee County Executive, he left the county in so much debt that his successor Chris Abele said taxpayers were paying more to service Walker’s debt than to provide services to residents.

But bragging rights to not raising taxes is an ace in the hole for a right-wing Republican with higher political ambitions, such as Walker.

‘Disinvestment’

Rep. John Nygren, a Republican co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, supports considering gas and fee hikes to pay for roads through the transportation budget. He joined with Democratic Rep. Robb Kahl in saying the current spending request is a disinvestment in roads that will hurt the state’s economy and make roads less safe while not addressing growth or other needs.

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John Nygren, Republican co-chair of the Legislature’s budget writing committee

Kahl and Gottlieb were members of a commission four years ago that studied Wisconsin road funding and needs for the future. The “disinvestment” level was the lowest of four that a commission envisioned for road funding over the next decade. That level imagined spending on transportation being flat, a scenario that envisioned “significant deterioration” in state and local roads and bridges with projects delayed for years.

“I actually think this budget looks lower than disinvestment,” Kahl said.

The commission four years ago issued a series of recommendations to improve the condition and safety of Wisconsin’s roads and transportation systems, including raising taxes and fees. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature ignored those recommendations.

But some Republicans are saying now is the time to consider raising taxes and fees, even though Walker and others insist it is not.

“This is not something I’m excited about, but we should consider all our options,” Nygren said.

‘Not a sustainable path’

The Dec. 6 hearing, which included invited testimony from road builders, environmentalists, local governments and others, was called by the Assembly GOP to gather information as leaders work on an alternate spending proposal. The fight over road funding, which faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall, is expected to be a central focus of the Legislature next year as lawmakers work on writing a new two-year state budget.

The DOT budget proposal that Walker supports calls for borrowing $500 million over the next two years and saving $447 million by delaying work on major projects. Delayed work would include the final phase of rebuilding and expanding Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange and expansion of Madison’s Beltline and nearby roads in the southwestern part of the city. There would also be no money for expanding Interstate 94 from Milwaukee south to Illinois.

Gottlieb defended the DOT’s management in recent years, referring to a report circulated to lawmakers this week that the department estimates it saved nearly $100 million this year alone thanks to a variety of efficiency measures. And, he said the estimated cost to operate a midsized vehicle in Wisconsin was lower than in neighboring states.

But he also testified that incoming revenue to the department was projected to increase 0.51 percent annually in the face of inflation increasing 1.8 percent.

“This is not a sustainable path,” said Democratic Rep. Deb Kolste, of Janesville.

Democrats blame the shortfall on Walker’s massive tax cuts for Wisconsin’s wealthiest families and “incentives” for politically connected corporations.

Louis Weisberg contributed to this story.

 

Walker, GOP leaders differ on plugging $1B shortfall for fixing Wisconsin roads

With Wisconsin roads rated among the nation’s worst, raising funds to shore up the state’s crumbling infrastructure will be one of the biggest issues facing the Legislature next year.

It’s an issue that pits Gov. Scott Walker against his own party. He and the  state’s Republican leaders have created a nearly $1 billion gap in Wisconsin’s transportation budget, but now Walker refuses to support raising taxes or fees to plug that hole. As he prepares for a likely third gubernatorial run, Walker probably doesn’t want to be seen as going back on his pledge never to raise taxes or fees.

But Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren says increasing funding for Wisconsin roads has to be an option. To help make his case, Nygren scheduled an unusual mid-summer conference call with reporters to release a memo by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing that just to pay for road projects that have already been approved, the state will need to come up with $939 million more.

Nygren urged Walker, lawmakers and the public to be open to all options — including raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

“We need to have a dialogue about how we’re going to fund our transportation needs,” said Nygren, who is from Marinette. “All options need to be on the table.”

Walker responded by reiterating his position in a statement saying, “Raising taxes and fees is not the answer.”

“Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “That is a commitment I will honor.”

Walker, however, has slashed state revenues by giving massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Wisconsinites and many millions of dollars in tax incentives to corporate cronies who failed to produce promised jobs. He’s also spent millions of dollars on politically motivated lawsuits to fight against LGBT and immigration rights. At the same time, he’s funded federal lawsuits for partisan gerrymandering, as well as for restrictions on abortions and voting rights. All of those issues were already winding their way through the court system in cases filed by tea party leaders of other right-wing states.

Walker delays upkeep on Wisconsin roads

Walker directed his Department of Transportation secretary to deliver a budget that identifies cost savings and prioritizes needs, but that doesn’t raise taxes or fees. Doing that will delay road expansion work and upkeep on all but the state’s most-traveled highways.

The department’s budget is due on Sept. 15, and it will serve as the starting point for the governor and Legislature as they work on the state’s two-year spending plan to be passed in mid-2017.

In the last budget passed in 2015, Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion, but the Legislature scaled that back to $850 million. They rejected recommendations from a bipartisan transportation commission in 2013 that called for increasing the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon, raising other transportation fees and using a mileage-based vehicle registration system.

Republicans have neglected Wisconsin road funding and they’re only talking about it now because an election is looming, said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

“On this issue, the Republican leadership’s word means nothing,” Barca said in a statement.

Nygren said borrowing more money and delaying projects is “not necessarily the fiscally conservative position.” But, he added, not addressing the problem will force future generations to pay for higher levels of borrowing without a substantial benefit.

Still, he took no position on how much additional borrowing he would agree to endorse.

Nygren said his preference would be to raise the gas tax because everyone who drives in Wisconsin, not just those who register vehicles in the state, would be affected. The state’s 30.9 cents per gallon gas tax is has not been raised since 2006.

Reporting for this analysis was provided by The Associated Press.

Finance committee OKs money for voter ID outreach in state

Wisconsin election officials will get $250,000 to re-launch efforts to educate voters about photo identification requirements, state lawmakers decided Monday.

The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to release the money to the new state Elections Commission. That agency is considering television and radio commercials, smartphone ads, online videos, bus and Facebook ads, and pre-show ads at movie theaters that could run as early as this summer.

“We just want to make sure the integrity of the vote is there, and this is a good way to let everyone know there is voter ID because we’ve gone back and forth (on whether the requirement is in effect),” Sen. Alberta Darling, one of the committee’s co-chairs, said.

Committee Democrats complained $250,000 wasn’t nearly enough.

“We could be doing so much better than we are today,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton.

Photo ID has been one of the hottest political issues in Wisconsin since Republican legislators put it in state law in 2011. The GOP said the move would help combat election fraud, even though that’s never been a problem in Wisconsin. Democrats decried the requirement as an attempt to block liberal-leaning constituencies who may lack IDs, such as minorities and the poor, from voting.

The photo ID law calls for public education efforts. The state Government Accountability Board began an outreach campaign but suspended it in 2012 after a court challenge put the ID mandate on hold. A federal appellate court ultimately upheld the requirement in 2014.

The progressive group One Wisconsin Institute has challenged the law in another lawsuit, but that action is still pending and the ID requirement was in effect for the February state primary election and April’s presidential primary. Despite Democrats’ fears of suppressed turnout, nearly half of the state’s eligible voters cast a ballot in April, the largest percentage turnout since 1972.

Still, Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison Democrat who sits on the finance committee, and the Wisconsin League of Women Voters pressed the GAB days after the presidential primary to ask for money to re-start the education campaign. Taylor and the league argued April turnout could have been even higher if more people had understood the law. The public needs to know the rules ahead of the November elections, they added.

The GAB asked the finance committee for the money in April. At first it looked unlikely the committee would go along. The panel’s supplemental fund contains only $267,000 for all state agencies through the end of June 2017. What’s more, Republicans have been upset with the GAB for assisting Milwaukee prosecutors in investigating whether Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. Walker signed a bill last year that replaces the GAB with two partisan commissions, one to handle elections and one to deal with ethics violations, beginning in July.

But nearly 30 Assembly Republicans sent a letter to Darling and the other co-chair, Rep. John Nygren, urging them to release the money. Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, a member of the committee, issued a news release last week saying spending the money would be a waste. There’s no such thing as a statewide TV or radio campaign and the efforts would unfairly target urban populations, he said. He suggested sending a letter to everyone who hasn’t voted with a photo ID yet and lacks a state-issued ID.

About 254,000 registered voters lack a driver’s license or state identification card, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. A one-page mailing to a group that size would cost about $118,400. The bureau cautioned, however, that the mailing wouldn’t reach people who haven’t registered and some proportion of mailings would be returned as undeliverable.

Knudson relented during Monday’s meeting and joined Taylor in crafting a resolution to release the money on a one-time basis and put the new Elections Commission in charge of the campaign.

After the committee meeting, Knudson said he would encourage the Elections Commission to directly contact the affected voters by mail, which he contends is more effective than a statewide TV campaign. In his western Wisconsin district, he said, it is unlikely that Twin Cities television stations that cover the district would carry the ads.

GOP lawmaker addresses heroin addiction in Wisconsin in response to daughter’s struggle

A Republican lawmaker whose daughter has struggled with heroin addiction announced Tuesday he plans to introduce another round of legislation focusing on opiate prescriptions that can lead to heroin abuse.

Rep. John Nygren of Marinette spearheaded seven bills designed to curtail heroin abuse and help addicts recover last session. He told reporters during a news conference Tuesday he has four more bills ready to go. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Dr. Tim Westlake, vice chairman of the state Medical Examining Board and a member of the state’s controlled substance board, and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel all stood with Nygren in a show of support.

Nygren said the new bills are designed to attack the root of the problem — addictions to opiate prescriptions that pave the path to heroin.

“As we said last session, there were no silver bullets contained in those seven pieces of legislation,” Nygren said. “We knew that we had more that needed to be done.”

The new legislation would require anyone who dispenses opiates to enter the prescriptions in a statewide tracking database within 24 hours rather than the seven days currently allowed under state law. Doctors would be required to check the database before prescribing opiates. Nygren said those moves could help identify addicts and doctors who are overprescribing.

Police who discover an opiate prescription at the scene of an overdose would have to enter the prescription in the database and notify the prescribing physician of the incident.

The package also would create registries for pain and methadone clinics. Nygren said little is known about how such clinics operate.

Nygren’s daughter Cassie has battled a heroin addiction for several years. She was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in 2009. She pleaded guilty this past March to felony narcotic possession and was sentenced to drug court.

Nygren has often cited her story in his push to advance anti-heroin legislation. His bills last session included measures that funded additional treatment facilities; established immediate punishments for parole and probation violators and immunity for anyone who reports an overdose; and allowed first-responders with training to administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts heroin overdoses. Gov. Scott Walker signed the proposals into law last spring after all seven bills passed the Assembly and Senate unanimously.

Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Fitzgerald hasn’t discussed the new bills specifically with his caucus but supports efforts “to fight narcotic abuse in Wisconsin.”

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-Hudson, appeared at the news conference to support Nygren, calling the bills “common sense reforms.” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who co-chairs the Legislature’s powerful budget committee with Nygren, issued a statement saying she stands with him, too.

A Walker spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Nygren’s bills.

Nygren said he still wants to address a shortage of treatment beds, detoxification centers that won’t accept active drug users and help recovering addicts stay sober and remain employed. He didn’t offer any details.

Read the last-minute proposals inserted into the budget by Wisconsin’s Republican leadership

At the end of the day on July 2, in advance of the long July 4 holiday weekend, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee introduced its wrap-up motion to the budget approval process. Known as the 999 motion, it included 67 different proposals — many of them highly controversial and unrelated to the budget. Most, if not all of the proposals, were presented without prior debate or discussion.

Included among the 999 proposals introduced by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, were measures to gut the state’s open records law, allow oil sands pipeline companies to seize any private land in the state through eminent domain, repeal the state’s “living wage” law, and delete information from investigative reports of shootings or other deaths caused by police officers.

Click the link to read the proposals included in the 999 motion.

GOP lawmakers remove Walker from his scandal-plagued jobs agency and ignore his request to seal off records

Republican lawmakers on the Legislature’s finance committee has plans to restructure Gov. Scott Walker’s struggling job creation agency WEDC. The committee has approved a plan to remove the governor as chairman, dramatically reduce the agency’s reserves and eliminate a program that would fund regional loans.

The move immediately drew praise from the committee’s minority Democrats. They declared that Republicans want to “fire” their own governor from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and demanded the GOP get even tougher on the agency.

“WEDC was part of the governor’s promise to create jobs. That promise has clearly been broken,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.

Republicans countered that Walker proposed removing all elected officials from the board in the state budget he introduced in February. They said he wants to depoliticize the agency and called on Democrats to dial back the rhetoric.

The committee debated the package for nearly three hours before voting. It passed 12–4, with all four Democrats on the committee voting against it.

The governor created WEDC in 2011 to serve as the state’s flagship economic engine. But the agency has been plagued by problems, including failing to track past-due loans, leadership turnover and blistering audits revealing mismanagement.

Walker included language in his budget that would have merged WEDC and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority into the Forward Wisconsin Development Authority, sealed off more of the new entity’s records, and allowed only people from the private sector to serve on the new agency’s board.

But criticism of WEDC has intensified over the last few weeks. An audit this month revealed the agency hasn’t followed state contract law and hasn’t demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they’ve created jobs. This past week a newspaper reported that the agency awarded an unsecured $500,000 loan to a company controlled by a Walker campaign donor in 2011. The loan wasn’t used to create any jobs and still hasn’t been repaid.

Looking to blunt Democrats’ attacks as he prepares for a potential 2016 presidential bid, Walker has asked legislators to scrap the merger, end direct WEDC loans to businesses and use $55 million he set aside in the budget to fund loans to regional organizations for worker training instead.

Finance committee Republicans introduced a sweeping motion that would insert language in the budget wiping out the merger and removing the governor as board chairman. The board would be allowed to elect a member of the public as its leader.

WEDC would be required to reduce its reserves to one-sixth of its estimated annual administrative expenditures each year. The reserves would be reduced by $12 million in the upcoming fiscal year to reflect that change. The finance committee would control about $11.3 million of that money.

The agency would be required to distribute the remaining $750,000 in grants to the Midwest Energy Research Consortium; Northcentral Technical College; Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin, an economic development agency in that area; and the Marathon County Economic Development Corporation.

The plan also would eliminate the additional open records exemptions as well as the regional loans.

The proposal makes no mention of WEDC’s loan program. Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, the committee’s co-chairman, told reporters during a news conference that Republicans support “winding” the program down. He offered no specifics.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email to The Associated Press that the plan “is in line with prior actions,” pointing out the governor had proposed removing all elected officials from the Forward Wisconsin Development Authority.

“These provisions,” she said, “are not major departures from what the governor has proposed and discussed publicly.”

Republicans and Dems united in opposition to Walker’s budget

Republicans and Democrats are both lined up in opposition to many of the key items in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s $68-billion budget proposal. 

Bipartisan resistance is growing to Walker’s plans to borrow $1.3 billion to pay for road construction and infrastructure projects, cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System, and pay for an expansion of the private school voucher program by taking money from public schools while holding their funding flat.

Walker’s budget also requires drug testing for public benefit recipients, which has proven costly in some states and ruled unconstitutional in others. The budget eliminates 400 state government positions, slashes funds for public broadcasting and weakens environmental oversight.

Walker says his plan offers bold ideas to reshape government, which is the emerging theme of his fledgling presidential campaign. Throughout the first month of his second term, Walker has been largely missing in Madison as he travels the country to court big-bucks conservative donors, meet with right-wing national leaders and build his name recognition among tea party supporters.

In Wisconsin, the Legislature’s GOP leadership is balking about the budget Walker is asking them to approve. They’ve been particularly outspoken about increasing borrowing by 30 percent to pay for highway projects, the majority of which are unnecessary, according to traffic studies.

“The biggest heartburn I have in regards to the proposed budget is the amount of bonding,” said budget committee member Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst. “I know there’s a number of my colleagues who are quite concerned about that.”

Walker’s Department of Transportation had recommended $750 million in higher taxes and fees, including on gasoline and vehicle registrations, to pay for roads. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other corporate-right groups had supported a modest gas tax increase.

But deferring, perhaps, to the anti-tax tea party voters who dominate Republican primaries, Walker nixed all tax or fee increases in favor of issuing bonds that won’t come due until he’s long gone. That drew criticism more than 400 local governments, road builders and labor unions.

Republicans also are joining Democrats in questioning Walker’s $300 million cut to UW, which amounts to 13 percent of the system’s budget. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the cut would create a $91-million budget hole at the system’s flagship school. Vos has said he’s worried the cut will make it more difficult for students to graduate in four years.

Along with his budget cut, Walker has proposed to give the system’s 26 campuses more autonomy and freedom from state laws and oversight, something university officials have lobbied for years to get. Although university officials have better received that part of the plan, many observers fear that it would embolden tuition hikes that would make college in the state less affordable than it already is.

UW-Madison faculty and staff planned to stage a rally and march on Feb. 14 to protest Walker’s proposed cuts to the UW System. The event, “Stop the Cuts — Save UW,” was set to begin at noon on the Library Mall. The Overpass Light Brigade planned a separate action at 6 p.m., when the group will spell out protest messages in lights.

While cutting UW funding, Walker’s budget would hold funding for public schools flat, while removing a 1,000-student cap on the private-school voucher program. Going forward, the program would be available to students transferring in from public schools at any point, and also private school students entering kindergarten, the first grade or ninth grade. Money to pay for it would come from state aid sent to the schools losing the student.

No increase in funding for schools amounts to a cut because they won’t be able to keep up with growing expenses, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. And, he added, taking money away from schools to pay for voucher students only compounds the problem, Evers said.

Democrats have criticized Walker and Republicans for using a previous surplus to pay for nearly $2 billion in tax cuts primarily benefiting corporations and the very wealthy over the past four years. Those tax cuts helped fuel the current budget gap.

With the budget now introduced, the debate now shifts to the Legislature, where lawmakers will spend the next four months working over Walker’s proposal before voting on it likely sometime in June.

Meanwhile, Walker will spend the coming months on the presidential campaign trail.