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Wisconsin may sell state properties to pay for road projects

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is planning to deliver the budget to lawmakers Wednesday evening. (The Trucker file photo)

By SCOTT BAUER
The Associated Press

2/20/2013

MADISON, Wis.  — Gov. Scott Walker planned to release details of his income tax cut on Wednesday as part of his state budget that also expands the private school voucher program, continues a freeze on spending in public schools, tightens income eligibility for Medicaid and puts state properties up for sale to pay for roads projects.

Walker was scheduled to deliver the budget to the Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday evening. The plan will be debated by the Legislature's budget committee over the next four months, then be voted on by both the Senate and Assembly sometime before it takes effect in July.

Walker has released major parts of his budget in the weeks leading up to his speech. Walker has said his proposed income tax cuts will affect those making between $20,000 and $200,000 a year.

Much of Walker's plan will find broad support in the Republican-controlled Legislature but Democrats spoke out against major parts of it before he delivered his speech Wednesday.

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"The governor's proposals are bad for the short term and bad for the long term in Wisconsin," said Rep. Peter Barca, Democratic minority leader in the Assembly.

Walker's budget is shaped by his desire to run for president in 2016, said Scot Ross, director of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.

"Wisconsin's middle class needs a balanced approach that targets tax relief to them and invests in long-term growth strategies and services they need like public education and health care," Ross said. "Instead they're being served a diet of privatization, cuts to programs they care about and special interest payoffs topped off with a tax cut for the rich, all to feed Gov. Walker's insatiable personal political ambition."

One of the most problematic of Walker's proposals is his planned expansion of the voucher program to any district that has at least 4,000 students and two schools receiving a D or F grade on new state report cards.

Enough Republican state senators have already voiced opposition to the plan to block it in the Senate. Walker has pledged to work with them to address their concerns.

While Walker wants to expand the voucher program, he's not allowing public school spending to go up. He is keeping spending limits for schools in place, while state aid to schools will go up about 1 percent. That money will go toward keeping local property taxes down, not more spending on schools. This has angered school advocates, especially since it comes on the heels of an $800 million aid cut and a 5.5 percent reduction in spending authority in the last budget.

Teachers and other educators planned to speak out against the plan at a Capitol news conference hours before Walker's speech.

Walker's budget also calls for cutting income eligibility for poor adults in the state's BadgerCare program from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. While he's also lifting an enrollment cap for childless adults, the net effect of the changes will be a drop of about 5,000 people in the Medicaid program.

Walker estimates that about 224,600 currently uninsured people will access federally subsidized private insurance coverage through the marketplace known as an exchange, which is scheduled to begin operating in 2014.

Walker is calling for those changes instead of allowing Medicaid eligibility to expand by 175,000 people as permitted under President Obama's federal health care overhaul law. Walker's changes won't cause any additional costs to the program, which is already slated to go up about $650 million in his budget.

Walker is also rejecting the recommendations of a task force created in his last budget that studied ways to plug a projected $2 billion funding gap over the next decade for road maintenance, repair and other transportation projects.

That group, headed by Walker's own secretary of the state Transportation Department, recommended a gas tax increase, fee hikes and other changes to provide long-term growth and stability to pay for roads projects. Their recommendations would have cost the average driver about $120 more a year.

Walker went in another direction, saying he would look into selling the state's power plants and other assets to pay off bonds for transportation projects such as the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee.

Walker's budget would increase transportation spending by about $500 million, but the additional money comes primarily from new borrowing and money diverted from the state's general fund, not additional taxes or fees.

His budget also calls for expanding DNA collection efforts to include anyone arrested on a felony charge and anyone convicted of a crime and allowing GPS monitoring of high-risk sex offenders subject to restraining orders.

He also proposed investing nearly $100 million in programs to develop the state's workforce, including a requirement for nearly 76,000 on food stamps to enroll in job-training programs. Those who don't would have their benefits limited.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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