Tag Archives: school vouchers

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.

Things to know about Wisconsin Legislature in 2015

Wisconsin’s next two-year legislative session started on Jan. 5 with Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers taking their oaths of office.

Here are some key things to know about the session and issues lawmakers expect to take up:

REPUBLICANS ARE STILL RUNNING THE SHOW

Republicans control state government for the third straight session after Walker won a second term in November and the GOP expanded their majorities in the Assembly and the Senate. Rep. Robin Vos of Rochester is serving a second straight stint as Assembly speaker. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau returned to lead Senate Republicans for the third straight session. Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha is leadingAssembly Democrats and Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse is heading up Senate Democrats, but both groups will be all but powerless.

SPENDING PLAN

One of Republicans’ first jobs will be developing the 2015-17 state budget, a spending outline for state agencies.

Walker will introduce an initial plan early in the year and the Legislature’s finance committee will spend months revising it before the full Assembly and Senate approve it.

The state faces a $2.2 billion deficit, which will make it more difficult for Walker to enact property tax cuts he promised while campaigning.

Republicans also will have to figure out how to pay for road construction; the state Department of Transportation wants $751 million in higher gas taxes and fees to plug its own budget gap.

This budget is especially crucial for Walker. He’s mulling a 2016 presidential run and the spending plan represents his last, best opportunity for achievements that might play well on the campaign trail in Iowa.

MORE UNION STRIFE?

Four years removed from massive protests in Madison over Walker’s law stripping public employees of almost all their collective bargaining rights, Republican lawmakers are mulling right-to-work legislation.

Such laws prohibit unions from requiring private sector workers join them or pay dues as a condition of employment.

Rep. Chris Kapenga of Delafield has promised to introduce such a bill, raising the specter of more protests.

Fitzgerald has said he thinks the Legislature should move on the issue quickly. Walker has said he wants the Legislature to focus on his agenda, not right-to-work, but he hasn’t said he would veto the legislation.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS

Republicans are looking to loosen or eliminate enrollment caps on the state’s private school voucher program, which gives students subsidies for private schools. The program is now capped at 1,000 kids in schools participating outside of Milwaukee and Racine.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILTY

Vos has repeatedly said he wants to overhaul the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan panel that oversees Wisconsin elections, ethics, lobbying and campaign finance law. A number of Republican lawmakers want to shift back to a more partisan model.

SORTING IT ALL OUT

The Legislature’s newly revamped website, http://legis.wisconsin.gov/, allows visitors to watch bills’ progress, search committee and floor period schedules and follow floor debates in almost real time. The site also offers links to bills from previous sessions, lawmakers’ biographies and their contact information, state statutes and a database of lobbyists.

Baldwin rallies Wisconsin Democratic convention

As PrideFest 2013 was getting underway along Milwaukee’s lakefront on June 7, the nation’s first out gay U.S. Senator was rallying the Democratic faithful at the party’s state convention.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin urged her Democratic Party of Wisconsin colleagues to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP officeholders in 2014.

Democrats who filled a hall at an Oconomowoc resort for the convention’s opening night rose to their feet and rained applause on Baldwin as she took the stage. She’s become a beacon of hope for Democrats relegated to the sidelines under Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature. Baldwin defeated former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, one of the state’s most popular Republicans, in November to become the state’s first female senator as well as the first openly gay candidate ever elected to the chamber.

Baldwin touted her own victory, as well as that of President Barack Obama  in 2012, as an affirmation of Democratic values. She said Republicans in Washington still don’t understand the plight of real people, lurching from financial crisis to financial crisis while middle class families in Wausau and Wauwatosa worry about keeping their jobs and getting their children through college.

“We did in fact have a whole election about all of these issues. We laid out our plans and we defended them and then Americans voted. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and Tommy Thompson and Reince Priebus didn’t win. We won,” she said, referring to Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney and Romney’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, and her victory over Thompson. Priebus is the Republican National Committee chairman and former Wisconsin GOP state party chairman.

Baldwin called on Democrats to turn out in droves in 2014 and defeat Walker and any other Republicans vying for office. She said Walker is more focused on running for president than the plight of Wisconsin’s middle class and the state’s stagnant economy.

“Now you get to decide whether we live in a state that lives up to our state motto – forward. … I saw how hard you fought for me. I’ve seen how powerful we can be together,” she said as the crowd applauded.

Other Democratic leaders lashed out at Walker for positioning himself for a  presidential run while Wisconsin’s economy suffers. Again and again they played up that the state has dropped to 44th in the nation in job creation.

“You’ve led our state straight to the bottom of economic growth,” U.S. Rep Mark Pocan, D-Madison, told the crowd to applause. Pocan is an out gay candidate who won Baldwin’s former congressional seat last November.

They also took Walker to task for rejecting a federally funded Medicaid expansion. They also blasted the 2013-15 state budget, which the Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee finished revising last week.

Tax cuts Republicans included in the package disproportionately benefit the wealthy, and other provisions in the spending plan expand vouchers for private school tuition to students statewide, which Democratic leaders described as an affront to public education. The voucher plan does not hold private schools accountable for state education standards and funnels taxpayer money into religious schools that could discriminate under the mantle of religious freedom.

“We have got to fight this agenda,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, told the crowd. “You reach a critical mass and people will say … we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Wisconsin GOP Executive Director Joe Fadness issued a statement claiming that Republicans have balanced the state’s finances and all Democrats want to do is go back to failed policies of the past. In fact, the state’s future budget deficit has increased greatly under Walker and is forecast to increase even more under his current budget.

Fadness did not deny that the state ranks near the very bottom in job growth while other states in the region have been adding jobs at a much higher rate.