Highlights of Gov. Scott Walker's second term

Gov. Scott Walker enters the Assembly chamber to deliver his 2017 State of the State address. In his second term he kept promises to lower property taxes and freeze UW tuition, but wasn't able to work out a long-term transportation fix with the Legislature.

M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL

Here’s how Gov. Scott Walker did on some of his 2014 campaign promises plus some of the key issues from his second term:

Politics

  • During the 2014 election, Walker said his plan if re-elected was “to be here for four years,” but almost immediately after winning he set out on a short-lived presidential campaign.

Budget

and taxes

  • Walker promised to “put Wisconsin in a better financial position.” Total spending is at an all-time high of $75.7 billion for the two-year period ending June 2019, driven by rising Medicaid costs, K-12 spending and transportation. Three agencies have raised the state’s bond rating.
  • Walker pledged property taxes would be lower in 2018 than they were in 2010. Property taxes on a median home are expected to be $2,830 in 2018, down from $2,919 in 2010.
  • He also pledged income taxes would be lower in 2018 than in 2014. Walker proposed cutting the lowest income tax rate and scaling back tax credits for low-income people, but the Legislature didn’t agree.
  • Walker pledged to make Wisconsin’s tax code more competitive. Wisconsin’s business tax climate was 38th in the latest Tax Foundation rankings, up from 39th three years ago. State and local tax collections in 2016 were 10.7 percent of personal income, down from 11.2 percent in 2014, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Business

and workforce

  • Walker’s first-term pledge to create 250,000 jobs fell short, but his efforts to make the state more business-friendly have been credited with landing a $10 billion investment from Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn. Opponents criticize the $3 billion price tag as too costly.
  • The Wisconsin State Journal revealed in May 2015 that Walker’s top Cabinet official had pushed for a questionable loan to a Walker campaign contributor. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. later acknowledged it couldn’t find more than two dozen financial reports for taxpayer awards. Walker stepped down as head of the agency’s board and temporarily ended its loan program.
  • Walker shifted his focus from job creation to workforce, appropriating $30 million for the Fast Forward program and increasing apprenticeships. Critics see Walker’s anti-labor policies as hurting efforts to attract workers.

Transportation and infrastructure

  • Walker pledged to “work with the Legislature to come up with long-term funding options for” transportation. In three consecutive budgets protracted negotiations have not yielded a long-term fix. Walker has opposed tax and fee increases, except a new fee on hybrid and electric vehicles. A recent legislative audit said 17 percent of state highways were rated in poor or worse condition in 2015, up from 7 percent in 2010.
  • Walker promised to increase funding for broadband internet in underserved areas. The budget added $35.5 million for broadband expansion, up from $5.5 million awarded over the previous five years.

Corrections

Allegations of abuse at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons in Irma sparked an ongoing federal investigation. A federal judge ordered prison officials to reduce the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray, but staff say the orders have emboldened inmates to misbehave. Walker’s office was warned about problems at the prison in 2012, shortly after his administration closed two other youth prisons closer to Milwaukee saving an estimated $46 million over two years. Walker has added staff and increased pay.

Veterans

After transferring $10.3 million into the veterans fund in his first term, Walker promised to protect the Veterans Trust Fund while maintaining high-quality health care at veterans nursing homes. The state-run veterans home in King had its federal ratings downgraded in 2016 after a 94-year-old veteran died and federal reviews found multiple incidents of substandard care. A legislative audit found the state Department of Veterans Affairs had transferred $55 million from the home since 2003 and delayed about a third of the requested projects at King since 2011.

Environment

Walker pledged to “continue to protect our natural resources.” He signed laws and rules that eliminated DNR scientist positions, delayed phosphorus pollution standards for lakes and streams, removed restrictions on large-scale withdrawals of ground water, withdrew tax support for state parks, and slowed purchase of conservation lands. His DNR reduced enforcement against polluters and poachers, removed information about climate change from its web site, and was criticized by state auditors for failing to follow its own water quality enforcement rules.

Higher Education

  • Walker and lawmakers cut the University of Wisconsin System by $250 million in the 2015-17 budget. The 2017-19 budget adds back $42.5 million in performance-based aid.
  • Walker promised to freeze UW and technical college tuition. The Legislature agreed to freeze tuition for a sixth straight year after Walker proposed a tuition cut, but rejected the technical college freeze.
  • Walker promised to increase higher education grants, which will total $113.9 million in the 2018-19 school year, up from about $105 million per year from 2010 through 2016. He also promised to add degrees to the online UW Flexible Option program — the budget requires a 100 percent increase in offerings by 2019.

K-12 Education

  • K-12 aid plummeted in Walker’s first term from $5.3 billion in 2010 to $4.9 billion in 2011, with the cuts largely absorbed by teachers paying more toward pension and health insurance premiums. Aid levels are budgeted to reach a record $5.9 billion in 2018, though adjusted for inflation they are still below levels in the 2000s.
  • He promised to work with the Legislature to address inequities between rural and urban school districts. He vetoed an increase in revenue limits for certain districts, effectively keeping in check their property taxes, and supports increasing rural district sparsity aid, which the Legislature cut. School districts with high transportation costs receive full reimbursement in the latest budget.

Health care and public assistance

  • Walker pledged to fight Obamacare. He has turned down $690 million in federal Medicaid expansion funding since 2014, but has provided BadgerCare Plus coverage to everyone below the federal poverty line.
  • He pledged to limit how long able-bodied, working-age childless adults can be on public assistance and to require a drug test for those requesting unemployment and food stamps. The state is seeking a federal waiver to drug test Medicaid and food stamp recipients, including a four-year limit on benefits if not working. Walker adopted a rule allowing someone who tests positive for drugs to be denied unemployment, but the test isn’t required.
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