By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that if he’s re-elected, he’ll increase state spending on schools to two-thirds of their total costs, echoing a pledge made this summer by his Democratic opponent, Tony Evers.
Walker also promised to increase spending on town roads while repeating his support for guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, even as he seeks to repeal the federal health-care law that provides it. Evers was campaigning on Monday with the former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to hit Walker on the issue.
Schools, roads and health care have been big topics of debate in the governor’s race, which polls show is a tossup just three weeks before the election on Nov. 6.
Walker pitched his schools-spending proposal on WISN-AM’s “The Jay Weber Show,” saying it could be carried out without raising property taxes and keeping in place the state’s Act 10 law, which took away collective-bargaining powers from teachers and forced them to pay more for benefits.
“You’ve got to keep the reforms intact,” Walker argued.
Britt Cudaback, the campaign spokeswoman for Evers, who is state school superintendent, called Walker’s spending promise a “desperate move” that comes more than two months after Evers made the same pledge.
Walker, a Republican, has contended that he is a “pro-education governor ,” citing his most recent budget, which increased school spending to a record-high dollar amount. But it was still about $300 million short of what it would have been if it had increased at the rate of inflation starting in the year before Walker took office. He reduced school spending by about $700 million in 2011.
Walker said on Monday that the two-thirds spending commitment could be met only if the state kept in place the 2011 Act 10 law, which saved school districts money by requiring teachers and other employees to pay more for health insurance and retirement benefits.
Evers has said that if he’s elected, he’d work to restore some of the collective-bargaining power lost under Act 10, though teachers and other public workers might still be required to pay part of their benefits costs.
Walker was campaigning with former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who signed a law requiring the state to provide money for two-thirds of school’s spending needs starting in 1996. The state last did that in the 2002-2003 school year, the year after Thompson left office. The law was repealed as part of the state’s budget for 2003.
After dipping to a low of 61.7 percent in Walker’s first year as governor in 2011, the state share of public school costs has slowly increased to 65.4 percent for the current year — just shy of $7 billion. It would take about $130 million to get to 66.6 percent.
Walker said during his radio interview that he could do it without raising property taxes, but he didn’t say how. Walker said more details would come later.
Evers is proposing a 10 percent increase for schools in the budget he submitted in September for the Department of Public Instruction, which he leads. His budget, which would rewrite the state’s complex school-aid formula, calls for meeting the two-thirds spending commitment by the 2021 school year.
Evers contends that his plan can also be done without raising property taxes, but it doesn’t spell out where the money would come from.