The first votes on Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year state budget will come this week, but the most difficult decisions, including whether to reduce cuts to public schools and the University of Wisconsin, aren’t expected to be made until later in May.
Far from sailing through the Republican-controlled Legislature, key portions of Walker’s budget have met with stiff bipartisan opposition as the Republican governor ramps up his likely presidential bid.
The $300 million cut to UW, a $127 million reduction in K-12 funding the first year and $1.3 billion in borrowing for roads are the most frequently mentioned of Walker’s proposals that Republicans say they want to change.
But none of those are on the agenda for the first meeting of the Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday.
Its work instead begins with debate over further cuts to funding and the responsibilities of the secretary of state’s office, transferring control of the independent commission that investigates judicial misconduct to the Supreme Court and eliminating a council that advises policy makers on court policy and other issues.
Most of the public attention, and opposition voiced at a series of public hearings and listening sessions the past two months, focused on different issues, many of which Republicans have said are dead on arrival.
Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the budget committee, said last month that Walker’s cost-saving proposal to force those in the popular prescription drug program SeniorCare to first enroll in Medicare Part D, where they would likely pay more for their medications, won’t pass.
Walker’s $220 million borrowing plan to pay for a new Milwaukee Bucks stadium is too rich for most Republicans, who are working with Walker on other less costly state financing plans.
Other problem areas include: taking policy-setting power away from the Department of Natural Resources Board; replacing the system that provides long-term care for the elderly and disabled with a new model under which the state would contract with large insurance companies; and paying for expanding the private-school voucher program by taking money from public schools that lose students.
Republicans have also sent strong signals that Walker’s plan to give the UW System independence and autonomy from state laws won’t pass as proposed. Instead, the Legislature is looking at reducing the size of the budget cut while granting UW some flexibility from state oversight to help it save money.
Both sides are anxiously awaiting updated tax collection forecasts, expected early in May, which will then largely dictate how dramatically Walker’s proposed cuts to schools, UW and elsewhere will be scaled back.
“So much is really waiting on those revenue numbers, it’s hard to know” how much Walker’s proposals could change, said Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos last week.
Republican leaders have repeatedly said their top priority is to reduce Walker’s proposed cuts for K-12 education and UW. Under Walker’s budget, public school districts would be left with about $135 less to spend per student over the next two years.
Walker is prioritizing cutting property taxes. He does that by giving schools more aid, but not increasing the revenue limit so they can spend more, which has the effect of lowering property taxes. Under Walker’s plan, property taxes on the typical home would go down an average of $5 a year each of the next two years.
Rep. Gordon Hintz, a Democrat from Oshkosh who is on the budget committee, argued it’s not worth gutting public schools’ budgets for just $5 a year in property tax relief.