By Karen Stokes
The Wisconsin state 2015-2017 budget was passed in the senate on Tuesday after five months of debates and revisions.
The $73 billion budget lays out the spending plan for the next two years.
The budget passed on an 18-15 vote in the Republican dominated senate. Senator Bob Cowles (R–Greenbay) crossed the aisle and voted against the bill with the Democrats.
The budget proposed by Governor Scott Walker in February experienced some hits and misses in the revised plan.
The Republican led senate defended the governor’s proposal on a number of provisions.
The senate passed legislation that would dictate recipients of public aid programs, like food stamps and unemployment benefits, to be subjected to screenings including drug testing.
Property taxes would remain flat.
In addition, there would be more opportunities for students to attend private voucher schools.
Money to pay for voucher students would now come out of public school aid.
Students with disabilities who are denied open enrollment in another district would be eligible to utilize a taxpayer funded voucher for private schools.
Walker originally called for a $300 million cut to the UW system but lawmakers but was reduced to $250 million.
Also rejected was the governor’s call to make UW independent from state oversight and laws.
A $127 million cut will not be implemented for Wisconsin Public Schools as the governor proposed.
For the first year of the budget, funding will be flat. In the second year of the budget, funding will increase by $69 million.
Seniors will likely continue to be supported with prescription medication funding.
The Joint Finance Committee rejected Walker’s call to cut nearly $100 million from a senior citizen prescription drug program, SeniorCare.
The senate scrapped the governor’s plan to strip the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) board of its powers and give complete control of the agency to a gubernatorial appointee. The DNR board will continue to set agency policies.
The senate also removed controversial, proposed changes to the state’s open records law.
The law would shield virtually everything created by state and local government officials from Wisconsin open records law including legislation drafts and staff communication.The law was drafted by Walker’s staff.
According to WKOW-Madison, the disclosure came from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Fitzgerald and members of the Governor’s staff contributed to drafting the changes.
“Certainly the Speaker was involved and the governor’s office,” said Senator Fitzgerald. “There was some stuff related to open records that they had issues with as well.”
Laurel Patrick, a spokesperson for Scott Walker, said in a statement: “Legislative leaders let us know that they were interested in making changes to the open records law.
In response, our staff provided input regarding these proposed changes.”
The senate voted 33-0 to remove the proposal.
The assembly plans to vote on the budget this week, then send it to Governor Scott Walker. Walker can use his veto authority to edit or remove items in the $70 billion two-year state budget.
Scott Walker is scheduled to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday, July 13.