MADISON, Wisconsin — A nonpartisan analysis of Gov. Scott Walker's nearly $70 billion budget proposal released Thursday will serve as the blueprint for legislative debate for the next four months.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau's 559-page breakdown of every piece of Walker's 1,800-page two-year spending plan comes in advance of three days' worth of hearings next week where the Joint Finance Committee will hear from state agencies about their budgets.
The committee will also hold public hearings throughout the state on the budget and then begin taking votes on making changes to the budget before advancing in to the Legislature for approval.
The analysis shows that state spending would increase 3.2 percent over two years while 447 full-time state positions, roughly half of them currently vacant, would be eliminated.
Walker's budget includes giving the University of Wisconsin System more autonomy while also cutting $300 million from it and freezing tuition, removing a lid on the private-school voucher program while taking payment for the students from public schools, cutting property taxes slightly, and borrowing $1.3 billion to pay for roads and other infrastructure needs.
The analysis shows that funding for K-12 public schools would remain basically flat over the next two years. But in the first year of the budget, which begins in July, schools would not receive a $150-per-student payment they got this year and that many had been counting on continuing. The money would be restored at a slightly higher level in 2016.
Walker has said he's open to lowering the cut to UW, as well as putting more money into public education and other changes. Both of those areas, as well as the level of bonding to pay for roads, have generated bipartisan criticism and are likely to be changed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The budget would also assign letter grades to public schools to measure performance and allow private schools in the voucher program to choose from multiple tests instead of the same one public schools use.
His budget would also strip the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources board of its powers, making it advisory only, provide a $2,000 incentive to state employees who opt out of state insurance and force eligible recipients of the SeniorCare prescription drug plan into the potentially more expensive, and more complicated, federal Medicare Part D program.
Walker faced a projected $2.2 billion shortfall when writing the budget, when taking into account spending requests by state agencies.
The Fiscal Bureau analysis shows that Walker's budget would leave the state with a net balance of just $58 million in mid-2017. It shows that bonding amounts to just over 2 percent of the total budget.
Walker and lawmakers are hopeful that new estimates of projected tax collections coming in May will be positive, thereby making more money available to be spent on UW, public schools, roads or other parts of the budget.
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