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View from around the state: Walker’s budget

Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year $66 billion budget is an experiment that tries to answer a key question: Can schools, universities and counties, cities and towns live with less money? This budget will cut nearly $800 million from public schools and millions more from local aid and the University of Wisconsin System.

But the budget also will leave the state’s books in their best shape in years — a $300 million surplus is expected two years from now. The budget Walker signed closed a $3 billion shortfall over the next two years.

Walker and the Legislature’s Republicans deserve credit for eliminating the state’s structural deficit. But the nagging question for them and for the state is whether this budget provides enough funds to buy the services the state’s residents say they want.

With his veto pen, Walker was able to correct some of the problems left by legislators.

Walker axed a provision that would have allowed bail bondsmen in Wisconsin and another that would have required the City of Milwaukee to pay fired police officers. He was able to bar public workers from collecting pensions unless they work for a state or local government for at least five years. And he vetoed a provision that would have made it harder for the public to retrieve ethics forms for lawmakers and other public officials.

Walker also kept in place a system for taxing smokeless tobacco; legislators had proposed taxing it based on weight instead of price. The governor noted, correctly, that such a system would make some products cheaper and more attractive to kids.

On the other hand, we’re concerned about a Walker veto that would expand an exemption in no-bid contracting, increasing it from $25,000 to $50,000. State agencies would be able to buy products and services at that higher amount without seeking bids, which has the potential to increase costs. And we think he should have vetoed a budget provision that will loosen restrictions on payday lenders and allow them to issue high-interest loans secured by vehicle titles.

Walker also left in place a cap on the popular Family Care program, which provides an alternative to nursing homes for young adults with disabilities and the frail elderly. That’s a mistake that may end up costing the state more money. But Walker recently said in a meeting with the Editorial Board that he was open to lifting the cap if all counties where Family Care is in place do a better job of emphasizing at-home care.

“Through honest budgeting, we are providing an alternative to the reckless tricks and gimmicks of the past,”

Walker said in signing the measure.

True enough. But the real question is whether that alternative – especially less spending on schools and municipal governments – will provide most Wisconsin residents with the services they say they want. That question is yet to be answered.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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