Gov. Walker announces $76 billion two-year budget

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Highlights of the two-year state budget Gov. Scott Walker released on Wednesday:

   BY THE NUMBERS: Spending would increase under the $76 billion, two-year budget by 1 percent in the first year and 3.2 percent in the second. The budget would end with an $82.7 million balance.

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   WHAT'S THE REACTION? Republican legislative leaders have been cautious about Walker's biggest spending items, including the K-12 schools funding increase and University of Wisconsin tuition cut. Democrats said Walker's budget was unrealistic and designed to give his approval ratings a boost as he prepares to run for a third term.

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   K-12 SCHOOLS: To receive more than $500 million in per-student aid, public schools would have to verify that they are in compliance with the state law known as Act 10. That law, which took away nearly all collective bargaining rights, generally required teachers to be contributing 12 percent toward the cost of their health insurance and 5.8 percent for pensions. The Madison school district is one of the few in the state where teachers aren't paying that much for their health insurance. Walker's office did not immediately have details on how many other districts would not comply.

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   HIGHER EDUCATION: Walker called for freezing tuition next year and then cutting it 5 percent for the 2018 academic year for all resident undergraduate students -- regardless of need. Overall funding would also be boosted by $100 million. He's also calling for freezing tuition for resident students in the Wisconsin Technical College System and providing the system with $5 million to pay for it. The governor's administration estimates the freeze would save students about $300 over the two-year budget.

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   INCOME TAXES: Walker proposed cutting income taxes by $100 million each of the next two years. He would reduce the two lowest rates from 4 percent to 3.9 percent and from 5.84 percent to 5.74 percent. That would affect taxes on the first $37,450 of income for married people filing jointly and $28,090 for single filers. The tax cut will save a median-income family of four $69 in the 2017 tax year, Walker's office said.

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   PROPERTY TAXES: Walker is calling for eliminating the state portion of the property tax, which is about $90 million a year. Property taxes are expected to be flat or go down slightly over the next two years on the median-valued home. Walker's office said the December 2018 tax bill would be $139 lower than December 2010.

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   SALES TAXES: Walker is proposing "back-to-school" sales tax holidays for two days in August 2017 and August 2018 for specified school supplies. That's projected to save families about $11 million each of those two years.

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   ROADS: Walker fulfilled his promise not to raise gas taxes or vehicle registration fees to plug a nearly $1 billion roads budget shortfall. Instead, he's borrowing about $500 million while keeping major highway projects on track, while abandoning Milwaukee's Interstate 94 east-west expansion project. Two projects that originally were scheduled to be delayed, will be kept on track. Those are expanding and reconstructing the Highway 151/Verona Road interchange in southwest Madison and reconstructing 11 miles of Highway 15 near New London in Outagamie County. All other projects could face delays.

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   PAY INCREASES: State employees would receive 2 percent pay increases in September 2018 and another 2 percent in May 2019.

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   WELFARE REFORM: Walker wants parents receiving food stamps to get a job or be enrolled in job training. He also wants to raise benefits under a tax credit program for one-child, working poor families that he cut six years ago. He would also reduce a penalty newly married couples faced under the Earned Income Tax Credit program.

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   PREVAILING WAGE: All prevailing wage requirements would be eliminated under the budget. The law sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects. The Legislature in 2015 eliminated the prevailing wage for local government projects, but Walker would do away with it for state projects as well.

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   HISTORIC TAX CREDIT: Walker is trying for a second time to cap tax credits for rehabilitating historic property to no more than $10 million a year. The Legislature rejected it in 2015 amid strong push back from advocates for historic preservation.

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   HUNTING AND FISHING: There would be no fee increases for hunting or fishing licenses.

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   STATE PARKS: Walker gives the Department of Natural Resources permission to raise state park admission and camping fees according to parks' popularity. However, the budget doesn't mandate the increases. The DNR released a potential plan late last year that would raise admission fees by as much as $10 and camping fees by as much as $5 per night at the most popular parks. DNR spokesman James Dick said Wednesday it's too early in the budget process to say what the agency might do.

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   DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Walker calls for reorganizing, but not breaking up, the Department of Natural Resources. The agency plan, supported by Secretary Cathy Stepp, 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.

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   LINCOLN HILLS: Walker would pay $1.3 million to hire eight new counselors at the state's troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison that is the subject of two federal lawsuits alleging misconduct by guards and an ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. The additional staff are needed to 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. The budget also creates 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.

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   VOUCHER SCHOOLS: Walker did not propose any faster growth in the statewide private-school voucher program that advocates for choice schools had hoped.

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   TEACHER LICENSING: Local school districts, not the state Department of Public Instruction, would be in charge of renewing teacher licenses. That means local districts, not the state, would be required to perform background checks on teachers seeking a license. The move would reduce the cost of teaching by more than $750 over a 30-year career, Walker's office said.

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   SELF INSURANCE: Walker proposed switching to a self-insurance system in 2018 where the state would pay for benefits directly for about 250,000 state workers and family members instead of purchasing insurance from 17 HMOs. The Group Insurance Board, which oversees the $1.5 billion state employee insurance program, recommended making the change just hours before Walker put it in his budget. Walker estimates it will save $60 million over the next two years.

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   FORESTRY: The Department of Natural Resources would have to move its forestry operations out of the agency's Madison headquarters to a facility in northern Wisconsin by the beginning of 2018. The governor's administration said the move would allow DNR foresters to relocate closer to areas of greatest demand. The move would cost millions. A plan the DNR included in its budget request said a new headquarters in Wausau would cost $5.9 million to build and $10.8 million annually to run. Leasing space would cost $1 million the first year and $9.4 million annually for 20 years.

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   PAROLE COMMISSION: The state Parole Commission would be eliminated and replaced with a parole director the governor would appoint.

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   VETERANS: The budget would lay out $2.7 million for improvements at the state's veterans homes and move 7.3 employees from the Department of Veterans Affairs' central office to the veterans home in King to increase care capacity at that facility. The King home has come under intense scrutiny in recent months with criticism centering on allegedly inadequate care and the transfer of millions of dollars from the home to other veterans funds. State auditors are looking into the facility.

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   Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

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   Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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   This story has been updated to correct the total amount of spending in the budget proposal to $76 billion and that the budget proposal would freeze technical college tuition.
 

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