Gov. Scott Walker, Tony Evers use budget proposals to score political points

Governor Scott Walker, Democratic challenger Tony Evers

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger Tony Evers are touting proposals for the next state budget in their hotly contested race for governor, attempting to score points by highlighting measures that would dramatically increase funding for schools and cut taxes.

Walker revealed details Monday of $200 million in tax relief he wants to enact over the next two years, while Evers is calling for a staggering $1.4 billion more for public schools. Neither proposal will be voted on by the Legislature until sometime next year, long after the November election.

Monday was the deadline for state agencies to submit their requests to Walker’s administration for funding, giving Walker and Evers a chance to spell out their spending priorities.

Whoever is elected governor in November will use those requests as the starting point for submitting a budget plan to the Legislature in early 2019. The Legislature then takes months rewriting the budget in the face of a July 1 deadline to pass a two-year spending plan.

Evers, the state superintendent in charge of the Department of Public Instruction, is asking for a 10 percent increase in funding for 421 public schools. If granted, that would restore the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of public schools — a level that hasn’t been met since the requirement was removed from state law after the 2002-2003 school year.

Walker adopted much of what Evers proposed in the last budget, submitted in the fall of 2016 and passed by the Legislature in 2017. That budget included a $649 million increase in education funding.

Because Walker approved so much of what Evers asked for, Evers referred to Walker’s last budget as “kid friendly,” comments that have come back to haunt him in the race that polls show is a dead heat. One outside group aligned with Walker has run a television adreferring to Evers’ praise for Walker’s last budget.

Education has been one of the core issues in the campaign, with Walker trying to brand himself as the “education governor,” a label Evers has dismissed as laughable. He argued that Walker has done more to hurt schools than help since he took office in 2011, starting with the Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.

Walker has been stressing that the economy is strong, noting Monday that the state’s unemployment rate this year has hit the all-time low of 2.8 percent and more people are working now than ever before.

“We’ve made incredible progress together, but there is more work to be done,” Walker said.

Budget proposal Walker singled out on Monday include:

— Creating a $5,000 tax credit for Wisconsin college graduates who commit to living in the state five years. The Walker re-election campaign last week released a television ad on that idea.

— Increasing the refundable homestead tax credit, available to people over age 62, by 50 percent. The tax credit is designed to lower property taxes for older people so they can remain in their home.

— Implementing a new state tax credit for child and dependent care expenses equivalent to the federal credit. Walker’s office said the average benefit per claimant would be $500.

— Enhancing the earned income tax credit for low-income people who get married.

— Spending $30 million more on workers training and education initiatives.

— Spending $4.75 million in state money to match nearly $27 million in federal funds to remove lead from the drinking water of homes where poor children live.

Evers’ campaign spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said Walker was making “empty promises” after failing to help students with college loan debt, provide “meaningful support for hardworking, middle-class families” or address problems with lead in the water.

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