Budget moves state in right direction

3:19 PM, Jul. 6, 2013  |  Comments
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The 2013-15 budget Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a week ago is far from a panacea for the state's fiscal woes, but it does have enough positives to move the state in the right direction - forward.

It is no surprise that the $70 billion package received not a single Democratic vote. Partisan positions continue to be firmly entrenched following the wrangling that ensued during Walker's first exercise in budgeting two years ago, when collective bargaining for public employees was virtually wiped out in a process that was messy at best and downright ugly during its worst moments.

The process this time was cleaner and the results more beneficial to a broader spectrum of Wisconsin citizens. Everyone will share - albeit unevenly - in a $651 million income tax decrease. University of Wisconsin tuition is frozen for the next two years. Property taxes on the average home in Wisconsin will rise no more than 1 percent in each of the next two years.

Those measures will put money back into pocketbooks, which can serve to stimulate economic growth.

The state also will add $380 million in funding for public education, while also expanding the controversial school voucher program by up to 500 students in the first year and 1,000 in the next.

It also invests about $6.4 billion in the state's infrastructure, which will help to create jobs.

There certainly is room for improvement in the budget, however. It swings too heavily in favor of the rich, particularly in the income tax cut. The Walker administration rejected millions in federal aid to expand the state's BadgerCare Plus health plan to more people. Republicans insist alternative health plans will adequately serve poorer Wisconsinites without leaving us beholden to the federal government, but we remain unconvinced.

Some aspects of the budget should have been considered separately by the Legislature instead of being included in the massive spending package. Examples include a provision requiring collection of DNA samples from those arrested for felonies, and one eliminating local residency requirements for teachers and limiting them for police and firefighters.

Walker rightly vetoed a measure that would have allowed private bail bondsmen back into Wisconsin, another measure that probably should have been considered as separate legislation. And his veto pen will allow the Center for Investigative Journalism to retain its presence on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The impact of the education initiatives included in the budget likely will continue to be assessed well after the two-year budget cycle is complete. Critics say not enough money was allocated to public education, and that enhancing voucher schools will further erode the ability of public schools to provide quality education.

Lawmakers need to develop an accurate model to measure the efficacy of voucher schools, particularly since many on both sides of the aisle don't particularly care for the school report card model currently in vogue.

No single budget will please everyone. We find enough favorable in this one, however, to give it more than a passing grade. The budget provides a solid foundation on which to grow and move the state forward.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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