By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger Tony Evers are touting proposals for the next state budget in their hotly contested race for governor, attempting to score points by calling attention to proposals that would greatly increase spending on schools and reduce taxes.
Walker revealed details on Monday concerning $200 million worth of tax relief he wants to provide in the next two years, and Evers called for giving public schools a staggering $1.4 billion more. Neither proposal will be voted on by the Legislature until sometime next year, long after the general election in November.
Monday was the deadline for state agencies to submit their requests to Walker’s administration, giving Walker and Evers a chance to spell out their spending priorities.
Whoever is elected governor in November will use those requests as the starting point for submitting a budget plan to the Legislature in early 2019. The Legislature will then take months to rewrite the budget in the face of a July 1 deadline to pass a two-year spending plan.
Evers, the state superintendent in charge of the Department of Public Instruction, is asking for a 10 percent increase for 421 public schools. If granted, that would restore the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of public schools’ budgets — a goal that hasn’t been met since the requirement was removed from state law after the 2002-2003 school year.
For the budget plan the state is now operating under, Walker actually adopted much of what Evers himself had proposed. The initial draft of that budget was submitted in the fall of 2016 and passed by the Legislature in 2017 and include a $649 million increase in spending on schools.
Because Walker approved so much of what Evers asked for, Evers referred to Walker’s last budget as “kid friendly,” comments that have come back to haunt him in the race, which polls show is a dead heat. One outside group aligned with Walker has run a television ad referring to Evers’ praise for Walker’s latest budget.
Schools have been one of the central issues in the campaign, especially as Walker has tried to brand himself as the “education governor,” a label Evers has dismissed as laughable. He argued that Walker has done more to hurt schools than help since he took office in 2011, starting with the Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.
Walker has been stressing that the economy is strong, noting on Monday that the state’s unemployment rate this year has hit the all-time low of 2.8 percent and more people are working now than ever before.
“We’ve made incredible progress together, but there is more work to be done,” Walker said.
The budget proposals Walker singled out on Monday include:
- Offering a $5,000 tax credit to Wisconsin college graduates who commit to living in the state five years. The Walker re-election campaign last week released a television ad putting that idea forward.
- Increasing the refundable homestead tax credit, offered to people over age 62, by 50 percent. The tax credit is designed to lower property taxes for older people so they can remain in their homes.
- Adopting a new state tax credit for child- and dependent-care expenses equivalent to the federal credit. Walker’s office said the average benefit for claimants would be $500.
- Increasing the earned-income tax credit for low-income people who get married.
- Spending $30 million more on training and instruction initiatives.
- Spending $4.75 million to match nearly $27 million worth of federal money to remove lead from the drinking water of homes where poor children live.
Evers’ campaign spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said Walker was making “empty promises” after failing to help students with college debt, provide “meaningful support for hardworking, middle-class families” or remove lead in the water.