Gov. Walker’s 2017-19 State Budget Address: Legislators Respond

On Feb. 8, Gov. Scott Walker gave his biennial State Budget Address to the legislature. The governor’s budget focused on three themes: Student Success, Accountable Government and Rewarding Work. Republicans were generally pleased with Walker’s proposal, but both parties agreed that the budget did not go far enough to address Wisconsin’s transportation budget shortfall.

Republicans praised Walker’s plans to increase education, tax cuts, reduced government regulations and welfare reform plans. However, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called the budget a “work in progress” and said that Walker failed to provide a long-term transportation solution.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said legislators were likely to split with the governor on some issues, including education and transportation funding and self-insurance. Fitzgerald said Walker’s figures for education and transportation budgets are likely to change as Republican lawmakers want to reduce the $500 million in transportation bonds proposed in the governor’s budget. Fitzgerald was skeptical about the cost savings and “ripple effects” of the governor’s self-insurance model for state employees. He also said lawmakers might look for more effective and significant ways to cut taxes than Walker proposed.

Democrats agreed that Walker failed to address Wisconsin’s failing roads, but went further to criticize Walker’s budget. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) accused Walker of continuing to prioritize the wealthy over working families.

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee said Walker’s budget is a “solid starting point” for the committee, which will hold hearings on the budget bill starting in March. Darling expressed concern about the substantial spending in the budget and said the committee would go further to analyze how much spending is responsible and sustainable. Nygren was also skeptical of the budget’s high spending trajectory. The chairs also said that the governor’s self-insurance program will likely be a cause for debate as the budget process continues.