NEENAH --Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed on the long-delayed state budget on Thursday, September 21st, a spending plan he will tout as he travels the state transitioning into full-time campaign mode for his re-election bid next year.
Walker signed the budget at Tullar Elementary School in Neenah, the first time he's signed the state's spending plan at a school and not a business.
The budget includes more than $600 million in new money for K-12 schools, a freeze on University of Wisconsin in-state tuition, and a property tax cut for the typical home. It also delays freeway projects in Milwaukee and imposes a new fee on hybrid and electric cars.
"We're thrilled about the things that are in here," Walker said, standing in front of students who later gathered with Republican lawmakers around the governor as he signed the bill into law. "One of the things I'll ask people is, 'What would you like, would you like more money for schools or lower property taxes?' The nice thing is, in this budget, you get both."
Before signing the bill, Walker made 99 vetoes.
Though Assembly Republicans were disappointed by some of them, the vetoes will stand because Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he wasn't interested in reversing them.
"Not at all. No. We're not going to try to override Gov. Walker on any of these vetoes," Fitzgerald said.
Walker eliminated extra funding for low-revenue school districts that Assembly Republicans pushed to include in the budget. The decision led Neenah's superintendent to criticize Walker as she introduced the governor at Thursday's ceremony.
"We'd ask that you'd consider, maybe in the next budget; or sooner to increase our (revenue) floor," Superintendent Mary Pfeiffer said.
No Democrats voted for the budget. Incoming Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said the spending plan fails to provide a long-term fix to the state's transportation fund shortfall, adding that the K-12 funding increase comes after deep cuts earlier this decade.
"If you lower your expectations, I guess it's nice to see they didn't get cut anymore," said State Rep. Gordon Hintz.
It was clear at the budget-signing ceremony that Walker saw a lot to campaign on in the $76 billion spending plan.
From the Neenah school district to small rural districts around the state to the Milwaukee Public Schools, which is the biggest in the state, this budget makes major, major investments in education in the state of Wisconsin," he said.
Afterward, the governor high-fived dozens of kids lined up in the school's halls. He walked past reporters without taking questions.
Walker said this week that he would wait until early November to make an official announcement about his re-election bid. He already has four Democratic challengers: state schools superintendent Tony Evers, Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, state Rep. Dana Wachs, and government watchdog Mike McCabe.
The budget signing comes 12 weeks late. As recently as last week, the Republican-controlled Legislature was at an impasse. To get three Republican senators to vote for the budget -- pushing the bill over the finish line -- Walker agreed to veto several provisions.
Fitzgerald and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said they liked most of the things in the budget but agreed that it was a bumpy road to get it passed more than two months late.
"Certainly going into the next budget session, I hope it plays out a little differently," said Steineke, R-Kaukauna.
The budget also:
- Delays the north leg of the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee County, and takes Interstate 94 near Miller Park off the state's to-do list.
- Imposes a $100 fee on electric vehicles, and a $75 fee on hybrids.
- Increases the income eligibility limits to 220 percent of the federal poverty level for families to send their children to private schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers. The Milwaukee and Racine program's limits, which are currently at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, do not increase.
- $4 million for airport improvements at Alexander Field in Wisconsin Rapids, a provision inserted into the budget after the developer of the nearby Sand Valley Golf Resort made a donation to the state Republican Party.