Transportation, Education Funding Expected to Set Gov. Walker and Legislators at Odds

Mar 27, 2017

State lawmakers will have their first official chance to weigh in on Gov. Walker's 2017-2019 spending plan on Tuesday, when the Joint Finance committee kicks-off a series of budget briefings.

JR Ross, editor WisPolitics.com, says he expects several areas of contention between the governor and Legislature, even among fellow Republicans. Ross predicts the biggest fights will be over Gov. Walker's plans for transportation, self-insurance for state employees and education funding.

When it comes to education, “Governor Walker has had a vulnerability the last couple budgets and the last election on education because he’s not putting as much money into schools, K-12, as some would like. Well now he’s proposing $650M in additional aid for K-12 schools - that’s a big chunk of change," Ross says. "And it seems to be kind of an indication to some people that he’s going to run for election in 2018, because you do that kind of a proposal, if you’re going to lay out a completely popular budget."

While lawmakers would be happy to see more state money going to education, Ross says, they have other priorities. The choice may involve deciding between roads and schools, and “that’s a dicey proposition, and it puts lawmakers in a difficult situation,” he says.

The quandary legislators will face when it comes to transportation, Ross says, is Gov. Walker not wanting to raise revenues to fund road projects. Walker wants to use the revenue the state already brings in and redirect it to maintenance. At one point, he said he would veto any budget that raised the gas tax or registration fee without corresponding offset in tax cuts somewhere else.

“Governor Walker has made clear the last couple months that, that’s not really the deal he was striking. So how get around that if they want to spend more money on projects like I-94 in the Milwaukee area or pick your big project around the state - where do they find the money? That’s the question for them right now,” Ross says.

The governor has been fond of saying that his budgets don’t “kick the can down the road." Yet a new report from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says that with this budget, Walker is creating a pretty hefty structural deficit.

Ross calls the structural deficit an interesting number, and says the state is actually in better shape than it was in many prior years.

“While it’s almost $1.1B, if you go back (over) the last 20 years, it’s actually the third best starting point we’ve had over that period," he says. "Other than this one and two other budgets Governor Walker’s proposed, we’ve had structural deficits of $1.5B or more that entire time – and one as big as $2.8B."

“It’s not that bad when you look at it long term, from that perspective,” Ross says.