Wisconsin legislators worked through disagreement and controversy to pass a $73 billion 2015-17 state biennial budget, more than one week after the July 1 deadline.
Gov. Scott Walker vetoed more than 100 items on the budget, but signed the budget into law 24 hours before declaring his presidential candidacy.
Cuts to education
The budget includes cuts to the University of Wisconsin System funding by $250 million, freezes in-state tuition and keeps funding for K-12 schools largely flat. Financial support for private voucher schools is the only place that will undergo notable growth in the Wisconsin education system under the budget.
These decisions came under fire from Democrats in the Legislature who urged more funding for public education.
“To freeze tuition and cut funding as significantly as they did still hurts students,” Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said.
Walker did, however, veto an item that would have taken power away from student government organizations to oversee the distribution of student segregated fees.
Bucks arena, transportation, taxes
The Joint Finance Committee removed the new Milwaukee Bucks arena deal from the budget in order to speed up the approval process, but other controversial language managed to make it through the Legislature. A $450 million decrease in the amount of money borrowed for transportation and a removal of the prevailing wage, which is paid to local project workers both caused in-party quarreling among Republicans but ultimately were included.
The budget does not increase income or sales taxes and reduces the state tax return marriage penalty. Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement he was satisfied with the conservative approach.
“This budget is good for Wisconsin and its taxpayers,” Vos said.
Open records law dispute
The votes senators and representatives of opposing parties cast reflect more than five months of discussion and polarization in the Capitol. The budget passed in a 52-46 vote, with all 35 Democratic representatives voting against and 11 Republicans breaking ranks to side with them. Earlier in the month, all 14 Democratic senators and one Republican opposed the budget in an 18-15 vote.
Republican leadership blocked every Democrat-proposed amendment in both houses with the only party win coming from a unanimous Senate vote to repeal the elimination of the state open records law. The change was inserted in the budget by the Republican-controlled JFC in the week prior to the Senate vote.
If passed, it would have made almost all records generated by government officials private and unattainable to the public. It garnered national attention and bipartisan shock, and Walker and JFC leaders eventually retreated.
“The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy,” Walker and Legislative leaders said in a statement.
Despite missing the original July 1 deadline, Wisconsin will not face any fiscal consequences.
Tamarine Cornellius, an analyst with the Wisconsin Budget Project, said this is not all together unusual. She said roughly half of Wisconsin’s biennial budgets pass on time.
“There’s really no big negative consequence to being late,” she said.