Walker plans agency consolidations, UW System flexibilities in next budget

Walker plans agency consolidations, UW System flexibilities in next budget

Gov. Scott Walker said in a tight state budget, he will honor campaign promises to cut property taxes, freeze University of Wisconsin tuition and require drug testing for public benefits, but he also plans to give more flexibility to the UW System and consolidate state agencies.

In a year-end interview at the Executive Residence, Walker outlined plans he has for the next biennial budget, which he hopes to roll out in late January.

Walker said he hopes to consolidate and merge some state agencies, including the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, and the Department of Safety and Professional Services and Department of Financial Institutions.

“I’m trying to make it more efficient, effective and accountable to the taxpayers in the state to make it more customer-service friendly,” Walker said Monday. “Going forward there will be a number of changes to the size and scope of government.”

Walker said he is committed to a continued two-year tuition freeze on UW campuses but hopes to give the UW more latitude in purchasing, compensation and other issues, which he said campus leaders have been calling for. He said the legislature pulled back on similar changes in the past, but he hopes to prove that it could save campuses money.

“If we put real flexibility in the hands of the UW System and it saves them money, I think it would be hard-pressed for the Legislature to come in and take that away from them,” Walker said.

On the transportation budget, Walker said neither he nor members of the new Republican majority in the state Legislature have an appetite for a gas tax increase, which was included in the Department of Transportation’s budget proposal.

He said he’s backed away from an idea he floated in October of a sales tax on gas rather than a per-gallon tax, saying that low gas prices now show that revenues would be lower. But he said overall he hasn’t made a decision what will be in the final proposal and likely won’t until late January.

“In either case what we’re not trying to do is shift to a higher tax burden but find the most effective and efficient way to do this long-term,” Walker said.

The governor said he believes the Legislature will simply have too much on its plate with budget items, reform of the Government Accountability Board, Common Core repeal legislation and agency consolidation to focus on right-to-work bills that have gotten a great deal of attention. He continues not to say whether he would sign such a bill.

“We will have to see where the process takes us, but right now my hope is they will pass the things we have on our agenda where we generally have agreement,” Walker said.

On his political future, the governor said he continues to have conversations with his family about a potential 2016 presidential run and believes now they would support him if he chose to run especially after having experienced a recall election.

“What normally would scare family and friends, I think because of the recall and this last election being the No. 1 target, I think they’re very prepared,” Walker said.

Walker told The Associated Press on Monday that he views his thinking about a 2016 presidential run differently from a possible debate of right-to-work legislation.

Walker has repeatedly said that debate would be a distraction from his agenda, and he hopes the Legislature doesn’t take it up.

But he says a potential presidential run doesn’t distract from trying to enact his priorities next year, which include a property tax cut, a school accountability bill and government consolidation.

Walker said his viability as a potential presidential candidate depends on the state doing well, so it’s not in his interest to get distracted.

Walker said he plans to make a decision in the next six months.