26 Jul A budget that moves Wisconsin forward
Madison, Wis. — Two years ago, I signed a budget that brought us out of the worst deficit in the state’s history. And on Monday, I signed a budget that moves Wisconsin forward.
The people of our state asked us to do three things with this budget: cut spending and taxes, make education our priority, and freeze property taxes. I’m pleased to say this budget does all three, and that we lived up to our commitment to Wisconsin families.
I have always believed that taxes in Wisconsin are too high. This is a great place to live, but we have to do something about reducing taxes. That’s why, when I ran for governor and we faced a huge deficit, I said that we had to fix it without raising taxes. For the second budget in a row we kept that promise.
In this budget, I signed major tax cuts that will reduce the tax burden on Wisconsin families by more than $325 million.
These are tax cuts that will really help people – creating a new tax deduction for health insurance, helping families pay for college, reducing the gas tax, reducing taxes on veterans, offering tax credits to farmers and, most important, exempting seniors from Social Security taxes.
Beyond cutting taxes, we must do something to stop rising local property taxes. We need to resolve the tension between schools and the property taxpayers that pay the bills.
At the same time, we all want the children in our state to get the best education possible. We want a property tax freeze, but not if it comes at the expense of our kids and their futures.
Because of the progress we’ve made in being fiscally responsible and being more efficient, and because the economy is improving, we are in position to have a responsible property tax freeze – one that protects our kids and our taxpayers.
In the last five years, property tax bills have gone up by an average of almost $120 a year. Under my property tax freeze, the average homeowner’s bill won’t go up at all.
There’s a fundamental difference between this property tax freeze and the one Republicans sent to me. We froze property taxes by funding education. They tried to do it by cutting education.
This freeze will be fairer for all of our communities than the one Republicans sent to me. It will protect communities that aren’t growing, and economic development. And it will last for two years – the length of the state budget – because we should not put a freeze on our communities longer than we can meet our funding commitment to them.
This is being done as part of a budget that protects our biggest asset in Wisconsin – our schools.
At a time of record gas and utility price increases, the Legislature’s budget told schools they would have to live with only a one percent increase, which wouldn’t cover rising costs. It would have resulted in more than 4,000 teachers losing their jobs, larger class sizes, and cuts to programs ranging from math to music.
I could not and would not allow that to happen to our schools and communities. That’s why we will return the state to its commitment of funding two-thirds of every child’s education.
We will allow our schools a modest three percent increase – the same as they’ve been given for the last decade or so. It’s nothing extravagant, but the increase will be paid by the state – not property taxpayers.
To do that, we had to set priorities. We had to choose education over special interest spending. We had to say, for example, let’s not spend $38 million for a preliminary study of a road project that won’t be built for another eight years; let’s use the money for our schools instead.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been going over this budget line by line, and I found more than $300 million in pork, excessive spending, and other savings we dedicated to education and property tax relief.
I know a few of these cuts will be controversial, but budgets are about making tough choices – and I chose our schoolchildren and our property taxpayers.
The additional money I have set aside through my vetoes will mean that we can have a property tax freeze without forcing the kinds of cuts that the Republican budget proposed. We don’t want to hear any more stories about schools having to get rid of foreign languages, or cut athletics or music or art, or simply folding the school district altogether like they are doing in Florence County.
None of this would have been possible without taking serious steps to cut state spending. We’ve looked for savings in every part of the budget, doing everything from cutting nearly 4,000 positions off the state payroll to selling 1,000 state cars to reforming state purchasing and contracting. Together, these steps have saved more than one billion dollars.
And we’re still not done with the work of reducing state spending. As I’ve always said, taxpayers in this state have done their part, now it’s time for us to do ours.
While there are many areas of government that can be cut, others are worth preserving. I’ve used my veto pen to protect the University of Wisconsin System, help double financial aid for UW students over four years, protect the Stewardship fund, and keep the Smart Growth law working so communities can plan for the future. I have used all my powers as governor to protect the priorities of the people of Wisconsin.
And my administration was able to find common ground with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature on the vast majority of the issues in this budget. We worked together and got the job done.
We have a balanced budget that Wisconsin can be proud of. It’s a budget with the right priorities: creating jobs, cutting taxes, protecting health care, investing in our schools, and freezing property taxes.
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