By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — And, so, the budgeting begins.
Gov. Scott Walker presented his biennial budget proposal Wednesday, the somewhat-official kick-off to state budget negotiations.
Much of the attention thus far has focused on big-ticket items, such as a proposed $343-million income tax cut.
But the plan contains just under $68 billion in spending, with some proposals more controversial than others, even among Republicans, who control the Legislature.
Walker’s proposal now goes before the Legislature to debate, a process that likely will conclude somewhere near the end of June.
So keep an open eye, Wisconsin: Your money is now in your lawmakers’ hands.
About that money …
Walker has been announcing his budget plans in bits and pieces during the past few weeks, including a $25 million venture capital program.
Still, not everything made it into a news release.
Among the governor’s proposals:
- Give biogas systems will have the same personal property tax exemption as wind and solar systems.
- Tie increased funding for technical colleges if they place students in jobs related to their field of study; offer degrees and certificates awarded in high-demand fields and programs with industry-approved curriculum; transition adult students from basic education to skills training; expand of dual enrollment opportunities; and provide customized training to businesses.
- Create a $54-million fund that rewards schools for performance improvement
- For counties and municipalities, leaves current levy limits unchanged so municipalities and counties may only increase their levies to match the growth in property values due to net new construction, while allowing for current law exceptions including debt service, service consolidations and annexations.
- Regarding public employees, addresses the hiring of annuitants by increasing the break in service requirement and establishing a threshold that requires anyone returning to work over two-thirds of full time to stop his or her annuity and rejoin the Wisconsin Retirement System.
Some economic analysts are concerned about a number of aspects of the governor’s proposal, including the fact that it increases the state’s deficit as calculated using generally accepted accounting principles and pays for transportation projects largely by selling power plants and borrowing money.
“The governor did pretty much what I expected,” said former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who sat on the Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance and Policy. “It was clear that new taxes weren’t going to happen in this environment and so he’d go to the general fund. I didn’t see the selling off of properties (power plants) coming, however. That’s a problem because it’s using one-time revenues for what need to be sustained transportation improvement projects over time.”
For his part, Walker said his budget plan aims to improve government through reforms and helping people “transition from government dependence to true independence.”
“Bottom line – I want more freedom and prosperity for all,” he said.
Light up and pay out
Tucked inside the governor’s 500-plus page budget plan is a program aimed at cutting health care costs.
Among other provisions, the governor recommends assessing state employees who smoke $50 per month, hoping they will be “encouraged to avail themselves of smoking cessation and other services designed to help them kick the habit.”
The provision could affect about 10 percent of employees, out of approximately 69,000 state employees total, according to the state Department of Administration.
The idea is clear: Smokers have more health-related problems, costing taxpayers more money.
The fee is expected to “save the state” $2.7 million over the biennium, DOA said.
Walker is proposing nixing the state’s residency laws that require people who hold public jobs to live in the community in which they work.
Proponents say the plan broadens the pool of applicants for public-employment positions.
But not everyone’s a fan of the provision, which would affect 127 municipalities.
“This is a major policy item, not fiscal in nature, that has no business being in the state budget,” Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said in a statement, adding, “In addition Governor Walker is abandoning the long held conservative principal of respecting local control. The Governor’s new mantra must be I’m from Madison and I know what’s best for you.”
Dennis Smith steps down
Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith has resigned his post, without publicly announcing why or explaining what he intends to do next.
Walker announced that DHS Deputy Secretary Kitty Rhoades would replace Smith.
“Kitty has the qualities necessary to lead the Department of Health Services and I am confident her long history of active involvement in health care issues will serve Wisconsin very well,” the governor said in a statement that also thanked Smith for his service.
A domestic violence case involving a man who allegedly tried to kill his wife, believing she and Smith were having an affair, is ongoing.
But Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie told the Wisconsin State Journal that case has nothing to do with Smith’s resignation.
ContactKirsten Adshead at [email protected]