Walker vetoes budget item that was intended to help low-revenue schools

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday vetoed 99 parts of the state budget, including a provision supported by Republican legislative leaders and educators that would have allowed low-spending school districts to raise more money from property taxes.

Walker released the vetoes a day before he planned to sign the budget into law at an elementary school in Neenah. The vetoes touched on nearly all parts of the massive $76 billion budget and resulted in trimming spending by $16.5 million over the next two years.

Walker said he vetoed that low-revenue schools provision because it would have resulted in schools being able to levy more in property taxes without voter input. He later defended the move on Twitter, saying the veto protects taxpayers.

The budget as it passed the Legislature increased the maximum that low-spending districts can spend from a combination of local property taxes and state aid per student from $9,100 to $9,300 this year and $9,400 the next.

The change was championed by public school advocates and the Republican co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, Rep. John Nygren, of Marinette. Nygren said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon that he was disappointed Walker chose to veto the low-revenue schools provision, saying it would hurt more than 200 districts across the state.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said it was disappointing that Walker’s veto would cut school funding while a tax change primarily benefiting wealthy people remains.

“These vetoes demonstrate why Wisconsin residents feel like they’re being left behind by a Republican Party that continues to favor the wealthy over working families,” she said.

Before Walker issued the vetoes, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said it was “way too early” to know if lawmakers would try to override any of them. The Republican-controlled Legislature has never voted to override a Walker veto.

Walker did not veto $4 million to pay for improvements to deal with increased air traffic at the Wisconsin Rapids airport caused by the opening of the nearby Sand Valley Golf Resort. The funding was added by lawmakers and was not part of Walker’s original budget recommendation. The golf course was developed by mega-GOP donor Mike Keiser, who donated $25,000 to the state Republican Party three weeks after Walker released his budget without the airport money.

Walker followed through on a series of vetoes he promised to three Republican senators to secure the passage of the budget. The biggest would immediately repeal the requirement that construction workers on state jobs be paid a prevailing wage, instead of having it take effect in a year.

He also cut $2.5 million to study interstate tolling, although that could still be pursued, and he also did away with changes that would have eliminated local control of rock quarries. He said changes that significant should be pursued with separate legislation.

The budget passed the Republican-controlled Legislature on Friday, 11-weeks after the July 1 due date. Spending continued at pre-deadline levels during the impasse. The Sept. 21 signature by Walker will make it the latest budget since 2007 when the Legislature was under split control. That year then-Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle signed it on Oct. 26.

Some of the items vetoed by Walker include:

— SEXUAL OFFENDERS: Walker did away with a provision requiring sexually violent offenders to be placed in their home counties after their release, saying the change needed more vetting by the Legislature and the public. The change would have also allowed offenders to be placed near schools, parks or day care centers.

— PREVAILING WAGE: Walker sped up a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage requirement. Originally it was to take effect in a year, but Walker is getting rid of it immediately. The requirement, which is favored by unions, sets a minimum wage that must be paid workers on certain state construction jobs.

— UW PERFORMANCE FUNDING: Walker removed a cap on how much University of Wisconsin campuses could receive in state performance-based funding. He also did away with allowing campuses to choose their own performance metrics, saying they wouldn’t be stringent enough.

— EARNED RELEASE: Eliminated modifications of the Department of Corrections’ earned release program that changed it from focusing on substance abuse treatment to rehabilitation centering on the inmates’ criminal behavior. Walker said the change would create a burden on the department and that it should focus on substance abuse.

— QUARRY REGULATIONS: Walker removed a budget provision that would have reduced local control over quarries, which he did to secure enough Republican votes in the Senate to pass the budget. Walker said changes that significant should be introduced as separate legislation.

— TOLLING: He eliminated $2.5 million for a study into interstate tolling, another piece of the deal used to secure Senate GOP support for the budget. Walker said whether to petition the federal government to allow tolling in the state can still be considered without the study.

— HISTORIC TAX CREDITS: Walker limited the tax break that any restoration of a historic property can receive to $500,000, resulting in a $13 million cut to the program over the next two years. The Legislature had set it at $5 million after Walker initially called for an annual limit of $10 million for the entire project. Proponents had argued that limiting the tax credit will result in fewer historic properties, especially in small towns, being saved and used as tools to spur economic development.

— ENERGY EFFICIENCY: He vetoed a provision that would have allowed K-12 schools to exceed property tax revenue limits to pay for energy efficiency projects.

— SCHOOL REFERENDUM VOTES: Walker limited when votes to exceed property tax limits can be held to regularly scheduled primary and general election days.

— JUDICIAL COUNCIL: A council that helps Wisconsin Supreme Court justice revise legal procedures would be eliminated, as Walker originally proposed. The budget committee attempted to save it but the Supreme Court quit funding it after the council’s executive committee gave its attorney a raise of more than $22,000.

— ELECTIONS COMMISSION: Walker cut five positions at the Elections Commission, which would have cost $304,000 annually, saying the commission has been working effectively with fewer staffers and can more cheaply manage busy times by hiring temporary workers or contractors. He also cut the daily stipend for members of the Elections Commission and Ethics Commission to $27. They currently receive $454 every time they meet.

— CAPITOL RENOVATION: He cut $1 million that was to be used to renovate the basement of the state Capitol.