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School funding dependent on Act 10 compliance under new budget

School funding dependent on Act 10...

MADISON, Wis. - Schools would be required to be compliant with collective bargaining restrictions to get new funding under the budget proposed Wednesday by Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker had previously announced an increase of nearly $650 million in funding for public schools through per-pupil aid, but provision released Wednesday shows there’s a string attached.

“School districts must certify compliance with 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 before receiving aid and aid must be directed to individual school buildings,” according to details in the state’s “Budget in Brief.”

A spokesman for Walker said Act 10 required all local governments to be limited to 88 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums and schools were given the ability to do so as well.

“While we have not done an exhaustive review, we are only aware of the Madison School District that did not capture the reform savings,” spokesman Tom Evenson said.

Under the new plan, schools would have to comply to receive the additional per pupil aid “to allow districts to save money and ensure more money is in the classroom and not spent on fringe benefit costs,” Evenson said.

Employees in the Madison Metropolitan School District currently pay for 3 percent of insurance costs. The budget proposal would raise their costs an additional 9 percent, which district officials are concerned about.

"It  seems unnecessary that take a district like Madison -- we have been able to manage our health insurance cost very effectively for the last couple of years with our employee groups and our local HMOs -- as long as we are achieving the results that we have achieved then we are satisfied that we are doing just fine," said Mike Barry, MMSD budget director.

The proposal would increase student funding by $200 per student.

"We have struggled with minimum revenue growth for years now. Finally, as we look forward to the two-year state biennium, when we have the promise of potentially $200 per student in each of the two years, that would be a real help for us in terms of our staffing levels, compensation and what we can do for students," he said.

MMSD does not currently qualify for the reform savings, and could miss out on $11 million in the next two years if they don't comply with the requirement.

The Department of Public Instruction would make the final determination on how districts would certify their compliance.

State schools chief unsure about Walker proposal

State Superintendent Tony Evers said he doesn't know how many public schools may not be in compliance with the Act 10 collective bargaining law.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed Wednesday that schools wanting to tap any of the $500 million in new state aid must be compliant with the law.

The law also required public workers to contribute more for their pensions and health insurance costs. Most school districts have taken advantage of the law to reduce their costs by having teachers and other employees contribute more.

But some, like Madison, have been able to avoid having their teachers contribute as much for health insurance as other districts.

Evers said he doesn't know what Walker means by compliance and is waiting for more details.

Income tax cut

Walker’s budget would also include an income tax cut that would save the median family of four almost $140 over two years.

The income tax cut would take effect in the 2017-18 tax year, and is projected to save the average median income family of four $69 in the first year and $70 in the second year.

The administration pegs the amount of total tax cuts in the budget at $592 million.

According to information provided by the administration, the total amount of tax cuts includes the income tax reduction, a previously announced tuition cut, sales tax holiday and a credit to the local school tax levy of $87 million.

The income tax cut alone would cost more than $200 million over two years, and is accomplished by reducing tax rates in all tax brackets.  It would also expand the second lowest bracket up to $37,450 from $29,960.

Transportation

Some major transportation projects in south-central Wisconsin would remain on time under Walker’s plan, including the Verona Road project and I-39/90 from the state line to Madison.

The Department of Transportation’s original proposal would have delayed Highway 18/151 by two years, but the governor’s plan puts that work back on schedule.

To put more funding toward roads, the administration proposes transferring money from the petroleum inspection fee fund into the transportation fund. Currently, about 2 cents of gas tax revenues go into the petroleum inspection fund. The administration said it believes it can transfer $107 million of excess revenues in 2019, and more in later budgets.

The budget would also include a full repeal of prevailing wage requirements for construction projects. This controversial measure has been debated at the Capitol in recent years, and fought by some local governments and private labor unions. The policy measure would also prohibit any project labor agreements, an issue that was recently approved on party lines in the state Senate. Local governments have said that PLAs help them complete work on time and in a quality way, while opponents said it drives up costs of projects.

Self Insurance

Following a decision by the Group Insurance Board on Wednesday, Walker’s budget also assumes a move to self-insurance for all state employees and the University of Wisconsin.

Self-insurance would mean the state would pay health claims directly rather than through an HMO.

The budget considers “significant savings without noticeable disruption for employees” and assumes a possible $120 million in savings between state employees and the University of Wisconsin System.

But whether that much can be saved is questionable. Competing consultant reports to the board have said the changes could save $40 million or cost the state $100 million. It’s unclear how the financial savings assumptions were made by the Walker administration.

Some legislative leaders have also sent letters indicating their concerns with the self-insurance model. Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, sent a letter to the board in December saying they were concerned about regionalization of health insurance and what it may mean to state insurance plans.

UW System

The budget, as announced Tuesday, would include a tuition freeze and cut for UW System schools.

Administration officials said Wednesday that technical college tuition would also be frozen under the plan, with the Technical College System getting $10 million to try and cover any lost revenue from the freeze.

Along with some of the accountability measures detailed by Walker Tuesday, the budget would also include a requirement to “codify the state’s commitment to academic freedom” and provide $10,000 to “review and revise policies related to academic freedom.”

Administration officials said the Board of Regents would work on language for that as well as specifics on performance measures the state would have to meet to get $42.5 million in new funding.

Savings

Overall, the administration said new funding for programs is accomplished by finding savings in consolidating some Human Resource functions across state government, as well as planning to repeal requirements for publishing and printing some documents.

They also said an improved economic outlook and fiscal management allowed them to put additional money into programs.

“Overall, our common-sense reforms brought us here to the point where we have a significantly better budget outlook for the state,” Walker said in his address. “We call this the reform dividend.”

The question will be on some of the more controversial measures, especially self-insurance, whether the Legislature will approve these savings, or whether a major overhaul will be completed by the Joint Finance Committee in the coming months.

Hunting, fishing fees wouldn't go up under Walker budget

Hunting and fishing fees would not go up under the state budget Gov. Scott Walker is proposing.

But the state Department of Natural Resources would be allowed to raise state park admission and camping fees under the two-year spending proposal.

The budget also approved DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp's plan to reorganize the agency and not break it apart as a Republican lawmaker has proposed.

The reorganization plan calls for reducing the number of DNR divisions from seven to five, moves the Bureau of Science Services' 19 researchers into a new Office of Applied Sciences and shifts 33 ranger positions into warden positions.

Large farms also would be allowed to hire consultants to craft permit applications.

DNR: Too early to say if park fees will increase

Department of Natural Resources officials say it's too early to say whether they'll increase state park fees under Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal.

Walker unveiled an executive budget Wednesday that grants the DNR permission to raise admission and camping fees according to demand. The budget doesn't mandate increases or lay out what those increases should be, but the agency in December released a potential plan to raise admission fees by as much as $10 and camping fees as much as $5 per night.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick says it's too early in the budget process to say what the agency might do with the fees.

The Legislature's finance committee will spend the spring months revising the spending plan before forwarding it to the Assembly and Senate for final votes.

Walker proposes more staff at troubled Lincoln Hills prison

Gov. Scott Walker isn't calling for closing the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison in central Wisconsin.

Instead, Walker is proposing to hire eight new counselors to help meet staff-to-inmate ratios mandated by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. Even with the new staffers, the prison in Irma would still need about 50 more positions to comply with the act.

He's also calling for creating nine new nurse positions to distribute inmate medication at the prison and 3.25 positions to expand mental health services for the prison's female wing.

The prison is the subject of two federal lawsuits alleging misconduct by guards and an ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation probe.

Republican leaders lukewarm to Walker budget

Republican legislative leaders are giving major parts of Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal a lukewarm reception.

Walker on Wednesday proposed moving ahead with some major road projects, while delaying others. He also called for nearly $600 million in tax cuts, reducing University of Wisconsin tuition and funneling about $650 million more in funding for K-12 schools. He's also calling for moving state workers to a self-insurance model.

Republican leaders voiced varying degrees of skepticism with all of those ideas.

Budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren says he didn't put forward a long-term solution for transportation. And co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling says the level of spending in the budget is an issue for her.

Fitzgerald: Walker tax cuts may look different

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is warning that the Legislature could scale back the tax cuts and school aid Gov. Scott Walker has laid out in his budget proposal.

Walker's budget includes nearly $600 million in tax cuts. Fitzgerald, a Juneau Republican, says lawmakers likely will move away from the governor's plan and work toward making multiple tax cuts in smaller amounts totaling around $100 million.

He also hinted that lawmakers may scale back the $649 million in new school aids Walker tucked into the budget proposal. He says the Legislature may have other spending priorities. He didn't elaborate.


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