Gov. Scott Walker OK with budget changes to win Senate support

Governor Scott Walker

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he is fine with making additional changes to the $76 billion state budget in order to secure enough Republican support to pass the Wisconsin Senate.

Walker, speaking on a conference call while on a trade mission in South Korea, said he would sign off on speeding up the repeal of the statewide prevailing wage and mandating additional cost-saving reforms at the Department of Transportation.

Both ideas have been floated by Republican senators who have said they don’t yet support the budget. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Tuesday he was short the 17 votes needed to pass the two-year spending plan, but hours later his office said the Senate would vote on it Friday.

The Assembly was getting first crack at the budget on Wednesday, beginning debate more than two months after the budget was due.

Democrats in the Legislature don’t have the votes to stop it. Legislative approval would send the budget to Walker, who said Wednesday he expected it to be enacted by the end of next week.

The budget plan largely mirrors what Walker introduced in February and comes before he runs for re-election next year. The budget sends $639 million more to K-12 public schools, freezes tuition on University of Wisconsin campuses, raises fees on electric and hybrid car drivers, and borrows $400 million more for road projects.

It also holds the line on property tax increases, cuts taxes for small businesses and imposes new work and drug testing requirements on public aid recipients. The proposal makes it easier to qualify for both the statewide private school voucher program and the special needs voucher program.

State workers would get 2 percent pay increases in each of the next two years.

All prevailing wage requirements would be eliminated under the budget in September 2018. Walker said Wednesday he would be fine with moving up the elimination date to Jan. 1 or even earlier. The law sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects. The Legislature in 2015 eliminated the prevailing wage for local government projects, but the budget would do away with it for state projects.

The budget plan doesn’t raise gas taxes or come up with a long-term funding solution for roads. Several Walker proposals — including an income tax cut, sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases and move to self-insurance for state workers — were rejected by the Joint Finance Committee.

Walker said Wednesday he was OK with those changes, saying that he still achieved his goals of increasing funding for K-12 schools and lowering property taxes.

The budget was supposed to be in place by July 1, though spending has continued at current levels during the impasse. Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly were hung up largely on how to plug the $1 billion road-funding gap. Ultimately, they largely sided with Walker’s approach to delay projects and borrow more money, rather than raise gas taxes to come up with more cash to complete major highway construction work around Milwaukee and elsewhere.

The Legislature also is considering a $3 billion incentive package for Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group. That proposal is slated to win final approval in the Assembly on Thursday, sending it to Walker.

The Senate made a couple changes to the bill before passing it Tuesday, with Walker’s support. One would enable the Wisconsin Supreme Court to accept certain Foxconn-related lawsuits directly, rather than automatically skipping the state appeals court as the previous version mandated. The other makes clear that Walker’s administration would set minimum job-creation requirements for Foxconn in the contract.