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Highlights of $76 billion Wisconsin budget proposal

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Here are some highlights from the two-year state budget that the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee was moving to pass on Wednesday:

BY THE NUMBERS: As proposed, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget would increase spending by 1 percent this year and 3.2 percent next year, and it would end with an $82.7 million balance. Final numbers on the proposal reworked by the GOP-committee were expected to result in a larger cushion that could be needed in an economic downturn.
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K-12 SCHOOLS: State spending on K-12 schools would increase by $639 million over the next two years, low-spending districts would get a boost and wealthier families could qualify for private school vouchers that would be funded by taxpayers. Per-student aid would increase by $200 this year and $204 next year for all schools, at a cost of about $505 million. Democrats argued that the latest proposal wouldn’t do enough to help public schools while spending millions more for private schools in the choice program.
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HIGHER EDUCATION: Tuition throughout the University of Wisconsin System would be frozen this year and next while the system would get an additional $36 million. That comes after UW funding was cut by $250 million in the last budget. The committee rejected Walker’s call to reduce tuition by 5 percent in the second year of the budget. It also denied Walker’s request to freeze tuition at the technical colleges.
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INCOME TAXES: Walker proposed cutting income taxes by $100 million in each of the next two years, which would result in an average reduction of $44 for every filer. Lawmakers have been cool to the idea, and instead are expected to reduce a tax paid by businesses on furniture and other property.
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PROPERTY TAXES: The budget eliminates the state portion of the property tax, which is about $90 million a year. The move would save the owner of a median-valued home about $50 over the next two years.
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SALES TAXES: Walker is proposing “back-to-school” sales tax holidays for two days in August 2017 and August 2018 for specified school supplies. The change is projected to save families a total of about $11 million a year, but the committee was considering scrapping or changing the proposal in one of its final actions on Wednesday.
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ROADS: The budget would not raise gas taxes, but registration fees for hybrid and electric vehicles would be at least doubled under the budget. The deal would borrow about $400 million over the next two years, which is less than the $500 million Walker called for but would also result in delays for some major projects, including the rebuilding of Interstate 94 between the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges and the northern leg of the current Zoo Interchange reconstruction. Democrats decried the proposal as irresponsible since there is no long-term plan for transportation funding. Various Republicans have said they are also disappointed, but feel like the plan is a step in the right direction.
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PAY INCREASES: State employees would receive 2 percent pay raises in September 2018 and May 2019.
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MEDICAID WORK REQUIREMENT: Able-bodied childless adults in the state’s main Medicaid program, BadgerCare, and parents on food stamps would be required to be working or receiving job training for 80 hours a month. That is the same requirement already in place for childless adults who receive food stamps.
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DRUG TESTS: All able-bodied, childless adults applying for BadgerCare health benefits would be screened for illegal drugs, including marijuana, which is not legal in Wisconsin even for medical purposes. Drug test requirements for food stamp recipients would be expanded to parents of children ages 6 to 18. A requirement that childless adults receiving food stamps be screened for drugs was passed in the prior state budget, but it has yet to take effect pending federal approval.
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PREVAILING WAGE: All prevailing wage requirements would be eliminated under the budget. The law sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects. The Legislature in 2015 eliminated the prevailing wage for local government projects, but the budget would do away with it for state projects, as well.
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HISTORIC TAX CREDIT: Walker is trying for a second time to cap tax credits for rehabilitating historic property to no more than $10 million a year. The Legislature rejected it in 2015 amid strong resistance from advocates for historic preservation. It was among the last items to be decided Wednesday.
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STATE PARKS: The Department of Natural Resources could raise daily state park admission and camping fees according to a park’s popularity.
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DNR MAGAZINE: Publication of a popular Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, which Walker wanted to end altogether, will be scaled back from six to four issues a year. There was strong pushback from fans the publication and from Democrats and environmentalists who said Walker’s true motivation was to silence scientific articles about subjects such as climate change.
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SELF INSURANCE: The committee rejected Walker’s proposal switching to a self-insurance system where the state would pay for benefits directly for about 250,000 state workers and family members instead of purchasing insurance from 17 HMOs.
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WHAT’S NEXT? Once the budget clears the Joint Finance Committee it will head to the Assembly, which could vote on it in a week. The Senate could pass it as soon as late next week. Republicans have their largest majorities in the Senate since 1971 and in the Assembly since 1957, so they’re not expected to need any Democratic votes to pass it. Walker can reshape the budget with his broad veto powers, but he’s expected to largely leave it alone given his close work with Republicans on what’s included.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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