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Wisconsin state legislature approves budget, sends it to governor

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June 28, 2013

By Jennifer Springer

Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin: The Wisconsin State Legislature passed a two year state budget on June 21, 2013.[1] The budget now goes to Gov. Scott Walker, who can use line-item veto powers to alter it.[1]

The state senate did not make any changes to the 1,400 page bill before passing it on a 17-16 vote on June 21.[2] The state Assembly approved the budget on June 19, 2013 before sending it onto the state senate.[2]

Gov. Walker announced that he plans to sign the $70 billion spending package during a ceremony on June 30, 2013.[3] Using his expansive veto power, Walker will have the opportunity to recast the budget to look more like what he sent the Legislature in January. Even though the Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly worked closely with him on most items, they did diverge in several areas that Walker can choose to change or reject.[4]

Some of the major changes associated with the new biennial budget include:[2][3]

  • Income Tax Cut: Income taxes would be cut by about $650 million over the next two years, rates in all brackets would be cut, and the number of brackets would shrink from five to four. The average tax cut for all filers in 2014 would be $152, but more than half of the tax cut benefit would go to those earning over $100,000 a year.
  • School Vouchers: The private school voucher program, currently offered only in Racine and Milwaukee, would extend statewide. Vouchers allow public school students to attend private and religious schools using a taxpayer-funded subsidy. Enrollment outside of Milwaukee and Racine would be capped at just 500 students next school year and 1,000 for every year after that. A new income tax deduction for all families with children in private school is also created.
  • Public School Funding: Spending in public schools would increase $150 per pupil in each of the next two years. Walker had proposed no increase, and Democrats called for $275 per student. The increase comes after an $800 million cut in per-pupil spending in Walker's last budget. State aid to schools would increase by about 1 percent.
  • Medicaid: Wisconsin would reject a federally funded expansion of Medicaid, despite calls from numerous health care advocacy groups to take the money and cover about 85,000 more adults in the program. Had the state accepted the federally funded expansion, people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 for a single person, would have been covered under the state's BadgerCare Medicaid program. The budget would only cover adults up to 100 percent of poverty, or about $11,500 a year. Currently, BadgerCare covers people earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level, or $22,980, but there is a cap on enrollment for single adults. The budget would lift that cap for those at or below poverty level.
  • University of Wisconsin: Tuition would be frozen for the next two years at the University of Wisconsin System, a move agreed after the system reported it had about $650 million in reserves at the end of the last fiscal year. The budget would also eliminate a proposed spending increase of $181 million for the UW System and cut it an additional $2.5 million. That comes on top of a $315 million cut that the UW System sustained in the previous two-year budget.
  • Public Land Sale: An array of state properties, including prisons, university dormitories, power plants and highways, could be sold to private buyers without going through a public bidding process. However no sale could go through without approval of the Joint Finance Committee, and state-owned property funded with at least 50 percent federal funds or gifts or grants could not be sold.
  • DNA Collection: Anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony, and after a court determines there is probable cause of their guilt, would be required to submit their DNA to law enforcement. Anyone convicted of any crime would also have to provide their DNA. That is an expansion from current law, which requires DNA samples only from convicted felons and sex offenders.
  • Bounty Hunters: Bail bondsmen would be allowed to operate in Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties. In five years they would be allowed to operate across the state. The five pilot counties would be required to track the bondsmen's activities and submit a report to the state courts director, who would have to provide a summary report to the Legislature no later than six months before the statewide expansion.
  • Residency Requirement: Public safety workers in Wisconsin couldn't be required to live any closer than within 15 miles of the city or county where they serve, a change that would most dramatically affect Milwaukee. All city and school district employees must live in Milwaukee, and similar but generally less restrictive requirements are in place in more than 100 other Wisconsin cities. It wouldn't apply to volunteers.
  • Unemployed: Unemployed people would have to conduct four work searches a week instead of the current two under one of several changes affecting unemployment benefits. Benefits paid to unemployed people in Wisconsin would also be more difficult to receive, thereby saving the state $37 million over the next two years. Changes include new, tougher regarding voluntary termination of work, misconduct and substantial fault, and searching for work.
  • Food Stamps: Able-bodied adults on Wisconsin's food stamps program would have to spend at least 20 hours a week working or getting trained for a job. Those who don't meet the work requirement would be limited to three months of benefits over three years. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that half of the childless, able-bodied adults on the program between the ages of 18 and 50 who would be subject to the work requirement would not meet it. That is 31,300 out of 62,700.
  • Investigative Journalism: The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism would have to move its headquarters off the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and UW employees would be barred from working at the nonpartisan center. The school currently provides two offices, utilities and Internet access, and in exchange the center hires some of its students as paid interns and provides academic and journalism support. Republican legislators argued that the center shouldn't rely on state facilities.


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