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JFC to Work Off Walker’s Budget Bill; Policy Items Pulled From Budget

By John Forester | April 7, 2017

From WisPolitics.com …

Joint Finance will work off the guv’s budget as it begins making changes except for the Department of Transportation, where the committee will use current law as its starting point, according to a memo distributed today.

The decision ends weeks of speculation over whether the committee would ignore Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals on items like K-12 education and moving to a self-insurance model for state employees and instead use the base budget as its starting point.

It also, observers say, bolsters the likelihood that Walker’s proposal to pump $649 million in additional state aid into K-12 schools will largely survive after the committee finishes its work on the budget. Those who favored starting from the base budget argued it would give lawmakers the ability to stress, for example, how much they put into public schools in new aid vs. current law rather than the focus being on how much less they approved compared to Walker’s plan, if the committee chose to reduce the increase.

Walker focused on the implications for his K-12 proposal in a statement.

“As I have traveled to every county for listening sessions and visited schools districts throughout Wisconsin, one message is clear — we need to take our Reform Dividend and invest it in K-12 education,” Walker said. “That is what my budget does, and by keeping my proposal today, the Legislature recognizes the need to make public education a top priority.”

Meanwhile, the decision also means the committee, controlled 12-4 by Republicans, will need nine votes to change Walker’s proposals other than in Transportation.

There, the committee would need nine votes to adopt Walker’s plan, which calls for focusing largely on local road maintenance and eschewing investing in new, major highway projects. That has been one of the biggest areas of disagreement between Walker and legislative Republicans, particularly in Assembly leadership.

JFC Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said Transportation remains the most contentious piece of the guv’s proposal and starting from the base gives the committee more options. She said some lawmakers continue to look at user fees to boost the fund’s resources, though a gas tax hike remained a tough sell and at this point her caucus would not support an increase.

“We want everything on the table, and we feel that by using the base it gives us more room” to make changes, Darling said.

JFC member Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, questioned where Republicans could find money to bolster transportation.

“Are we going to be doing this budget on the backs of our children by not providing the increase that the schools wanted and needed?” she said.

JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, said GOP lawmakers recognize K-12 spending is a priority for the guv. Still, he said the overall education package could be tweaked before the budget is sent back to Walker. For example, he said some have questioned if all schools should get the per-pupil increases Walker proposed through categorical aids. Some, Nygren said, would like to look at directing more of that money toward low-spending districts to help them catch up with others rather than spreading it equally across the state.

“Could it end up looking a little bit different than he proposed? I think it could, and we made that statement to them,” Nygren said of his conversations with the Walker administration.

The committee also is pulling 83 policy items Walker proposed, including proposals to eliminate the minimum number of instruction hours provided by public schools and requiring UW graduates to have an internship or work experience.

The committee also is pulling out Walker’s calls to repeal the prevailing wage for state projects and banning project labor agreements. A standalone PLA bill has already cleared both houses of the Legislature and is awaiting Walker’s signature.

Nygren said the prevailing wage proposal was pulled because it was policy and because the committee is starting from base on transportation. He did not see a problem with the proposal in general and said it would pass as a separate bill or be included in an overall transportation package before the budget is finished.

Other policy proposals being pulled include:

*Walker’s call to centralize printing and mail services under DOA, allowing local governments to publish some documents online rather than in the paper of record. Newspapers and open government advocates had raised concerns about the proposal. There’s also a separate bill on the publishing requirements now before the Legislature.

*Requiring the DATCP and the DNR to study the possibility of transferring the regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations from the DNR to DATCP.

*Requiring the Legislature to submit a plan ahead of every two-year budget to keep its spending flat and to reduce it by 5 percent. The Legislature included a similar provision in the 2015-17 budget imposing such a requirement on state agencies.

*Deleting the requirement schools boards meet at least once a month and have an annual meeting each July.

*Permitting UW System students to decline paying the portion of segregated fees that support campus groups.

*Requiring UW schools to lay out how to complete a bachelor’s degree in each major within three years.

*Requiring UW schools to monitor teaching workloads for faculty and report those hours publicly.

*Adding language to state statutes on the importance of academic freedom on UW campuses.

Read the memo here.

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