Education, Transportation Top Wisconsin GOP Budget Priorities

Feb 8, 2017

There’s disagreement among state Republicans over some items that Gov. Walker will likely propose in his budget Wednesday. Gov. Walker has indicated that he will call for more funding for K-12 schools, particularly in rural areas. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is pleased. He says many public schools have seen declining enrollment and it affects the amount of money the state sends them.

“Our entire school aid formula is based on the idea of per pupil funding which says that the more pupils you have, the more money you get. The less pupils you have, the less money you get. For an awful lot of Wisconsin, especially rural parts, they’ve had declining enrollment for a while and it comes down to, it costs the same to have the school building, it costs the same for the lights, it costs the same for transportation,” Vos says.

But, Vos says he is not crazy about Walker’s plans to cut UW tuition by 5 percent. The speaker says he’d rather see the budget keep tuition at current levels and offer students more financial aid. Another area of friction among Republicans could be transportation and how to plug a $1 billion hole in the DOT budget. The governor says he won’t approve any hikes in fees or taxes unless lawmakers cut other areas of the budget. Yet Vos says “all options are on the table” including raising the gas tax or establishing toll roads.

“I think our economy is growing, I think there’s a reasonable chance that we’ll be able to reduce taxes like we have in every budget that Republicans have passed, which would allow for the possibility of revenue increases in transportation,” Vos says.

Another priority for Republicans is reforming Wisconsin’s welfare programs. Gov. Walker is expected to include, in his budget, plans to require food stamp recipients to work or enroll in job training. Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke says that idea sounds good to him - if the Trump administration gives the states, such flexibility.

“If things are block granted back to the states, it gives us the ability to spend the second half of the session hopefully, on setting up structures for those programs that make sense for Wisconsin, and not a one size fits all like we’ve been dealing with for decades now,” Steineke says.

Another item expected to show up in the state budget is a plan to restructure the Department of Natural Resources, to make it more efficient. The DNR has submitted a proposal. But, Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake is hoping state leaders consider his idea. Jarchow wants to split the DNR into two separate agencies.

“We’re proposing that we have a fish and wildlife agency that manages and promotes the sports of hunting and fishing, and then a separate agency that does environmental protection. And then we’ve also proposed that the forestry function operate more like it does federally, and move to the Department of Agriculture,” Jarchow says.

Gov. Walker has indicated he thinks Jarchow’s idea has merit. We’ll find out all the budget details, when the governor delivers a speech to the Legislature late this afternoon.