State Budget

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Dozens of faith leaders in Wisconsin are outraged with the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. It decided to increase prison spending in the next state budget by $5 million, in order to add capacity.

THEDIGITELMYR, FLICKR

Wisconsin lawmakers sink their teeth this week into some of the more divisive portions of Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget. One is how to pay for transportation.

Walker doesn’t want to raise taxes to pay for the state’s transportation needs. So one tool he uses is bonding. His transportation secretary Mark Gottlieb had recommended a hike in the gas tax. But Gottlieb found himself pitching Walker’s plan to the Legislature’s joint finance committee.

Wisconsin's State Capitol
Flickr.com/pinchof

More marathon sessions are expected in Madison. The Legislature’s Joint Finance committee is moving into its final week of budget deliberations.

Gov. Walker has indicated he wants his budget passed quickly, and several huge items remain.

One big lingering matter is Wisconsin’s transportation budget for the next two years. JR Ross covers state government for the online news magazine wispolitics.com. He says the Joint Finance Committee must decide how to fund highway projects.

Wisconsin's State Capitol
Ann Althouse, Flickr

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, better known as WEDC, is in the limelight once again. 

State lawmakers in 2011 created the public private agency that replaced the Department of Commerce. Back then, the Walker administration argued that WEDC would be more efficient and create more jobs. However, since its inception the agency has been plagued by problems of job creation and retention and accountability to name a few. On Thursday, the state’s budget committee tackled how to move forward with WEDC.

Ian Freimuth / Flickr

While several high profile and controversial measures in the Governor’s proposed budget have worked their way through the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, other parts of the budget are still up for debate.

One such issue is a measure that would cap the amount of money available through Wisconsin’s Historic Tax Credits program, which provides incentives for builders and developers to rehabilitate historic buildings.

FRANK JUAREZ / FLICKR

The Milwaukee School Board will hold its first meeting Thursday since the Legislature’s budget committee approved several items that could greatly impact MPS. Perhaps the biggest would be the creation of a Recovery School District. 

It would give an independent commissioner oversight over failing MPS schools. At Thursday night’s school board meeting, members are expected to discuss giving the MPS superintendent similar powers.

Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller says the state budget language stunned him.

Althouse

The Legislature's budget committee on Wednesday morning undid Gov. Walker's cut to K-12 schools while approving an expansion of the state's voucher school program.  

The Joint Finance committee worked into the night and restored all of the $127 million cut the governor had proposed for the first year of the two-year budget.

In addition, the panel approved a measure that would allow $100 per student in funding for the second year of the budget.

Marzky Ragsac Jr., Fotolia

Hot-button issues came before the Legislature’s Joint Finance committee on Tuesday. Many votes fell along party lines, with Republicans approving items in Gov. Walker’s budget and Democrats resisting, unsuccessfully.

The committee approved one of Gov. Walker’s proposals that would require certain residents seeking unemployment benefits, food stamps or Medicaid coverage to be tested for substance use. Those who fail could keep their benefits if they enrolled in taxpayer-funded treatment.

State Rep. Dale Kooyenga explained his support for the plan.

Marti Mikkelson

Wisconsin might end its Chapter 220 program. It started decades ago to integrate public schools in the Milwaukee area. A federal judge ruled in 1976 that they were unconstitutionally segregated.

Gov. Walker wants to phase out Chapter 220 over a 12 year period; he cites minimal participation. On Tuesday, the legislature’s budget committee will vote. We spoke with people who hold strong opinions about the program.

Gov. Walker spent time in New Orleans Monday, touting plans to expand Wisconsin’s school voucher program. Tuesday, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will debate his proposal.

While Wisconsin may open its voucher program to more students, not many other states are headed in that direction.

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