MADISON, Wis.—Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his proposal for Wisconsin’s state budget on Tuesday night, and he did not shy away from offering bold ideas.
The second-term Republican governor has proposed a budget for 2015-17 that would cut property taxes again, eliminate the cap on the state’s school choice program, and reform government by merging agencies.
Walker’s budget would also spin off the public University of Wisconsin System as a separate state entity and require those receiving government benefits to take a drug test.
“Our plan is based on growth and opportunity—which leads to freedom and prosperity for all. Secondly, our plan will use common sense reforms to create a government that is limited in scope and—ultimately—more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the public,” Walker said. “And finally, our plan will ensure a state where people are safe and sound in their homes and throughout their communities.”
Walker, regarded as a leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, continued to build on the policies passed in his first term, which included public-sector collective bargaining reforms, $2 billion in tax cuts and reforms to the state’s entitlement programs.
The budget proposal, which will be heavily debated by state legislators in the coming months, would give homeowners additional property tax relief over the next two years.
“Largely because of our reforms and the flexibility we gave to local governments, property taxes on a typical home in Wisconsin are $131 less this year than they were in 2010,” Walker said in his speech.
“Tonight, I am proud to say that our state budget will continue those reforms, so the property tax bill on a typical home will be even lower during the next two years. Just as I promised, property taxes by the end of 2016 will be lower than they were in 2014.”
This is in contrast to the $230 total increase in the four years before Walker took office.
The governor also talked about expanding the state’s school choice program.
“I am excited to announce our plans to lift the cap on vouchers so more families … can have the choice to find the best school for their children,” Walker said. “Every child deserves the chance to succeed.”
If passed by the GOP-led legislature, all students living under 185 percent of the federal poverty level and currently attending a public school would have access to a voucher to attend a private school.
This expansion is on top of school choice programs already in place in the cities of Milwaukee and Racine.
Walker’s budget also expands public school choice in the form of independent charter schools. Wisconsin currently authorizes these schools in the city of Milwaukee, but nowhere else in the state. Independent charter schools are public schools, but do not operate under the auspice of the local school board or teachers’ union.
The governor has proposed a statewide board, which would authorize new charter schools statewide. In Milwaukee, the independent charter schools have repeatedly outperformed their traditional public school peers.
Walker’s budget would also build on his past reforms of state government. The plan calls for the merger of multiple state departments—including the Department of Financial Institutions, the Department of Safety and Professional Services, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, among others—into two, more efficient agencies.
Walker also introduced a plan recently that would build on his previous entitlement reforms.
“Our budget expands the requirement for able-bodied adults to be enrolled in an employment and training program in order to receive food stamps,” Walker announced. “Now, some might claim that we’re making it harder to get government assistance. We’re not. We’re making it easier to get a job.”
The governor did not speak about the topics of right-to-work or eliminating the state’s prevailing wage law—both policies that are expected to be discussed this legislative session.