Scott Walker signs state budget with 104 vetoes day before 2016 kickoff – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Waukesha— As he prepared to kick off his presidential campaign, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the state budget Sunday after using his veto powers to excise grants for conservation groups and a provision that would have given payday lenders new authority.
Another change will give the Republican governor’s administration more leeway to decide which food stamp recipients to test for drugs. In all, he vetoed 104 items from the budget — about twice as many as he did in the last two budgets he approved.
The two-year, $72.7 billion spending plan doesn’t raise taxes, freezes tuition at University of Wisconsin campuses, cuts university funding by $250 million and puts off until later a lasting solution for funding highways.
“With this budget, taxpayers come first,” the Republican governor said at a signing ceremony at Valveworks USA, a manufacturing company that makes components for mining equipment.
Walker signed the budget in Waukesha shortly after 4:30 p.m., about 24 hours before he is to return to the GOP hotbed to make his 2016 presidential bid official.
Walker’s budget signing came 12 days late — rather than weeks early, as he had hoped — and with the largest number of GOP “no” votes of any of his three budgets. But he kept his promise to sign the state spending and taxing plan before announcing his presidential run.
Walker, the first serious declared presidential candidate that Wisconsin has seen in generations, then embarks on a weeklong tour of four early primary states — Nevada, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa, which he plans to cross over three days in a Winnebago motor home starting Friday.
Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said he thought the budget was designed to help Walker in his presidential bid rather than Wisconsinites.
“We think it’s much more of a campaign document for the far right wing,” Barca said.
Governors in Wisconsin have vast veto powers that allow them to strike out individual words and sentences to create laws the Legislature never intended. Walker reminded lawmakers Sunday he wasn’t afraid to use that authority, even with a Legislature that is firmly in the hands of his party.
Among the items he struck from the budget was a measure that would allow payday lenders to provide more services, such as insurance, annuities and financial advice. Some of Walker’s opponents and allies had urged him to cut that measure from the budget because it would give those lenders far more authority than other types of financial institutions.
He also tweaked a provision requiring some people to take drug tests to qualify for food stamps. Walker removed a provision that would have required the tests to be limited to those who fall under reasonable suspicion, saying his administration shouldn’t face limits on whom it sees as best fit to be screened.
He also removed a section that would have had the state pay for drug treatment for those who fail the tests. The veto means the state would not pick up the cost for treatment in cases where individuals had health insurance covering such expenses.
The state is expected to face a lawsuit over the drug testing, just as other states have. By taking out the portions on reasonable suspicion, Wisconsin officials may have a tougher time arguing the testing doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution’s protection from unreasonable searches.
“I campaigned on this last year, and we said we’re going to make sure people not only get the employability skills they need to get hired, we’re going to make sure they’re free of drugs,” Walker said. “Because we know if they’re free of drugs and they know — or they have basic employability skills — we can find a job for anyone in the state of Wisconsin.”
In other vetoes, Walker eliminated a total of more than $1 million in grants for groups such as the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Gathering Waters Conservancy, Natural Resources Foundation, Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association and the River Alliance of Wisconsin.
He also vetoed a plan that would have created a Frank Lloyd Wright Heritage Trail that showed drivers on Wisconsin highways how to get to landmarks the famed architect designed. Along with it, he removed a $500,000 grant that would have been used to promote the trail.
Walker also used his veto powers to:
■Make changes to an overhaul of the state’s long-term care programs known as Family Care and IRIS. Those elements dictated the process used to make sure rates paid to integrated health agencies were sound, specified the state had to have at least five regions for the programs, and put limits on when open enrollment periods could be held for the programs.
The changes clear the way for Walker to establish one statewide program if he wants, instead of having it carved into regions. That would make it difficult for existing regional nonprofit entities to continue participating in the program and make it more likely that national for-profit corporations would.
■Eliminate a measure that would have made construction materials tax exempt if it is used for schools, municipalities or nonprofit groups. Walker said he supported the idea but thought the provision had been written too broadly.
■Speed up the termination of a long-running state program aimed at cleaning up leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The Legislature had given storage tank owners until as late as July 1, 2020, to file claims to get state help. But Walker made a change requiring any owner to notify the state by next week to get state assistance.
■Kill a requirement that half the money the state receives for selling public land be used to pay off debt and half set aside for future land purchases. Walker said he wanted all the money to go toward paying off debt.
■Modify new limits on how water quality plans are written for Dane County. GOP lawmakers put the restrictions in place for Dane County — the most liberal in the state — but not other counties.
Walker kept most of the limits in place, but removed one that would have taken away his ability to give local officials a role in writing the water quality plans.
■Remove a provision that would have limited how much the Public Service Commission can pay groups that intervene in utility rate cases involving rate hikes and new power lines and power plants.
The veto restores a grant that the Citizens Utility Board, a utility watchdog group based in Madison, has used to help it advocate on behalf of customers at the PSC, and eliminates a requirement that advocacy groups provide matching funds to hire experts in PSC cases.
The budget went to Walker after it passed the GOP-controlled Assembly on Thursday by a vote of 52-46 — an unusually tight margin for a chamber that includes 63 Republicans.
The provision on payday lending was inserted into the budget this month by the Joint Finance Committee in a 67-part grab bag package. That massive motion — known as “motion 999” — also included provisions that would have eviscerated the state’s open records law, but the governor and GOP lawmakers backtracked on the idea after facing a public outcry.
The co-chairwoman of the budget committee, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), acknowledged to reporters at the bill signing that there are concerns about the wide-ranging motion being inserted in the budget at the last minute.
“A lot of people don’t like what’s called the 999, the provisions that are put in at the end of the budget. And I must say that I’m in agreement with a lot of the people who say, ‘Let’s not do such an expansive 999,'” Darling told reporters. “I would like not to have that as a part of our budget.”
Walker spent much of the day Sunday with an ABC News crew to tape interviews for “World News Tonight with David Muir” and “Good Morning America.”
They visited the governor’s mansion, the McDonald’s in Delavan where Walker flipped burgers when he was in high school and Saz’s restaurant in Milwaukee, where Walker met his future wife, Tonette, and later proposed to her.
At the McDonald’s, Walker showed off his high school football jersey (No. 32), shook hands and hugged old family friends and met up with his old shift manager, Rita Butke, now store manager for the same McDonald’s.
Walker was interviewed by Muir. The network’s main piece on Walker will air Monday night, shortly after the governor’s presidential kickoff. It includes the first interview the full Walker family has done together: the governor, his wife and their sons, Matt and Alex.
Craig Gilbert, Thomas Content and Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report