Walker promises swift action on Wisconsin budget
Walker said in a statement after the budget passed the Senate on Thursday night that he would act within days on signing and issuing vetoes, if any, to the $66 billion two-year spending plan that generated weeks of protests.
Despite the outrage from Democrats and others that the budget would devastate public education, health care and programs for the poor due to deep cuts, Walker and Republicans who supported it said they were putting the state’s finances back on track.
“I remain confident that the Senate and Assembly passed a budget that met and exceeded the goal of balancing the budget by cutting spending and not increasing taxes,” Walker said.
Republicans in the Legislature moved rapidly to approve the budget in the face of recall elections this summer that could give Democrats control of the Senate and the ability to block their agenda.
The Senate passed it on a party line 19-14 vote Thursday. The Assembly passed an identical version earlier in the day on a 60-38 vote, with all Republicans voting for it along with one independent. No Democrats in either house voted for it.
“There is no shared sacrifice in this budget,” said Democratic Minority Leader Mark Miller. “This budget gives to those few who already have a lot. It gives to them and it takes from those who have less. ... The citizens of Wisconsin deserve better.”
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie did knock down one fear that erupted Thursday among opponents of school vouchers that language added to the budget by the Assembly could result in the expansion of the program statewide instead of just to Racine.
Walker and Republicans support expanding vouchers beyond the city of Milwaukee. The budget would allow vouchers in Milwaukee County and the city of Racine, but language was removed that would have permitted them in Green Bay.
Voucher opponents said they were worried Walker could easily veto the language to allow vouchers to go statewide. The pro-voucher group School Choice Wisconsin is led by two former Republican speakers of the Assembly — Scott Jensen and John Gard.
“These guys know how to write legislation,” said Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. “We’re not dealing with rookies here in Scott Jensen and John Gard. I don’t believe that anything happens by accident in this business.”
Werwie said the governor will not line-item veto that section and his intention was to have vouchers expand only to Racine and Milwaukee County as the Legislature intended. Jim Bender, a lobbyist for School Choice Wisconsin, also said the intention was not to allow vouchers to go statewide.
Even so, state Superintendent Tony Evers issued a statement saying criteria put in the budget that would allow only Racine to qualify could soon qualify other cities including Green Bay, Appleton, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Madison, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Superior, and West Allis.
Republican Sen. Mike Ellis said a bill would be passed later this year to make it impossible for vouchers to expand beyond Racine as was intended. Werwie said Walker supported that bill.
“There was no sneakiness in this,” Ellis said.
The expansion of vouchers was just one of several trigger points for Democrats who attacked Walker’s budget during 13 hours of debate in the Assembly, which ended with a passage vote at 3 a.m., and in the Senate, which debated for nine hours before passing it.
Democrats said the budget cuts funding for public schools, higher education and programs benefiting the poor at the same time as it extends tax breaks to manufacturers and multistate corporations and increases funding for roads. They called it an attack on the middle class.
“People are frightened in Wisconsin by this economic situation,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. “They’re extremely frightened their own government is abandoning them. This budget is an assault on those very people.”
But Sen. Alberta Darling, one of the Republican co-chairs of the budget-writing committee, said the spending plan was about helping small businesses, entrepreneurs and farmers.
“I want to give those individuals the freedom to decide what to do with their own money,” she said.
The budget cuts public education funding by $800 million over two years and reduces the ability of local school districts to make it up through property tax increases. It also cuts UW funding by $250 million, calls for $500 million in cuts in Medicaid and puts an enrollment cap on a popular program designed to keep senior citizens out of nursing homes.
Republicans called it a responsible approach to solving a $3 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes.
Two protesters disrupted a brief Senate session in the morning by shouting, “Kill the bill” and then using rigid bicycle locks to chain themselves to the railings of a public gallery that overlooks the Senate floor. They encircled the U-shaped locks around the back of their necks and waited as authorities eventually broke the locks and took them into custody an hour later.
Capitol Police said 16 people were arrested for disorderly conduct during the Senate’s debate.
Associated Press writer Dinesh Ramde contributed to this report