Wisconsin's budget surplus grew by $500 million Thursday,
leading to a bipartisan call by state lawmakers and Gov.
Scott Walker to put some of the money toward public schools
two years after funding was cut by more than $1 billion.
schools, though, lawmakers and Walker disagreed on the best
way to use the surplus reported by the nonpartisan
Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Republicans said they were
committed to cutting taxes, putting money in reserves, and
reducing the amount of bonding used for roads projects.
Democrats called for investing more in worker training, but
didn't endorse deeper tax cuts.
put Walker and the Legislature in unfamiliar territory. When
the governor took office two years ago, the state was facing
a $3.6 billion shortfall. The state entered this year with
roughly a $500 million surplus, but Walker spent nearly all
of that in his budget proposal. Now, there's another $500
positive news set off a feeding frenzy of sorts in the
Capitol, as Republicans and Democrats staked out positions
on how the money should be used. But the Republican
co-chairs of the committee in charge of coming up with a
spending plan urged caution.
have to take a deep breath," said Republican Sen.
Alberta Darling. She likened the news to winning the
lottery, but said the wise course was not to spend the money
immediately and instead come up with a responsible plan.
good news today but it doesn't mean we're going to celebrate
and go on a spending binge," Darling said at a news
conference. "We're not going to be spending it
he was committed to increasing funding for schools, cutting
taxes and putting money in reserves.
surplus is good news for the state of Wisconsin," he
said in a statement.
into office intent on cutting into the $3.6 billion
shortfall, starting in 2011 with his proposal that forced
public workers to pay more for their pension and health care
benefits while also effectively ending their ability to
collectively bargain. He survived the resulting 2012 recall
effort, and argued that move and other deep cuts to public
education and University of Wisconsin funding were necessary
given the gravity of the state's budget.
with an unexpectedly large surplus, Republicans and
Democrats are calling for the restoration of some of the
cuts to K-12 schools and elimination of Walker's proposed
must put the $500 million back into our neighborhood, public
schools to provide future generations with the best
education possible to compete in a 21st century
economy," said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chris
schools primarily use a combination of state aid and
property taxes to pay for their expenses. Revenue limits
determine how much they can spend. Without the ability to
spend more, additional state aid goes to lowering property
taxes. So, schools want to be able to spend more, not just
receive additional aid that can't be spent in the classroom.
only said he wants to give schools money, but hasn't
committed to allowing them to spend it. His budget continues
a spending freeze for another two years.
Republican leaders said in a joint statement Thursday that
they would support giving schools enough money to pay for a
$100 per-student spending increase. Senate Republican
leaders have called for as much as a $200 per-student
increase. Democratic Sen. Jennifer Shilling, a member of the
budget committee, called for a $275 per-student increase.
And the Wisconsin Association of School Boards backed a $200
$200 increase corresponds with historical increases based on
the annual inflation rate," said John Ashley, executive
director of the group.
Republican lawmakers also called for cutting taxes more than
Walker originally proposed in light of the surplus. Walker
called for a $343 million cut, netting the average taxpayer
about $83 a year.
promise is to give Wisconsin taxpayers the largest possible
income tax cut that we can afford," Rep. Dale Kooyenga,
R-Brookfield, said. "The revenue numbers released today
put us one step closer to accomplishing that goal."
revenue projection was driven primarily by unexpected
strength in individual income tax collections since January,
according to the memo from Fiscal Bureau director Bob Lang.
Finance Committee is in the middle of its process of taking
votes on Walker's budget plan and expects to complete its
work by early June. The budget must be passed in identical
form by both the GOP-controlled Senate and Assembly before
being signed by Walker.