MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker turned to the people on Thursday for support for his priorities that are running into opposition from fellow Republicans in the state Legislature, most notably a 5 percent tuition cut for University of Wisconsin students.
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Walker also reiterated his opposition to raising the gas tax or other transportation-related fees to pay for road projects. Walker previously had said he would consider such increases only with corresponding cuts elsewhere, but he appeared to back away from that approach in comments to reporters in Milwaukee.
"Now is not the time to raise taxes," Walker said. "It's not the time to raise gas taxes, it's not the time to raise income taxes, it's not the time to raise taxes on farmers and manufacturers as some have proposed in each of those categories."
Walker's budget would cut income taxes by about $200 million over the next two years, impose a sales tax holiday in August for back-to-school items and eliminate the state portion of the property tax.
But those provisions, and others, are running into roadblocks from Republican legislative leaders, who say the budget is unrealistic and question Walker's priorities.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald predicted that the nearly $600 million in tax and fee cuts Walker wants would be whittled down closer to $100 million. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was against the tuition cut, while Fitzgerald said he didn't see a lot of support for the idea.
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That led Walker to tell reporters in Milwaukee that he's taking his case to the voters.
"My goal is to present this to the people of Wisconsin," Walker said. The tuition cut idea, which would follow five years of freezes, came after he heard from students, parents and grandparents concerned about the high cost of attending college, Walker said.
"My hope would be that those parents and grandparents and students would talk to their lawmakers and that might change their perspective on this," he said.
Walker also defended his transportation budget in the face of criticism from Vos and other Republicans. Walker's budget would abandon work on a 3.5-mile east-west portion of Interstate 94 in Milwaukee near Miller Park between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges. Instead, Walker would spend $31 million on a section of I-94 south of Milwaukee to the Illinois border.
But Vos said it's disingenuous for Walker to claim that work is ongoing on the project in Racine and Kenosha counties when he's spending just $31 million on a project whose total cost is nearly $900 million. The project is a priority for Vos.
"No governor has ever had a budget that's been approved as proposed, so there's always going to be some changes, but on this one we just respectfully disagree," Walker said.
Walker's proposal to change the way state employees get their health insurance, moving from choosing from a variety of private insurance companies to a self-insurance model, has also ran into strong opposition.
Vos was joined by budget committee co-chairs Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling in raising objections both to making the switch and to Walker's assumption that the move would save $60 million over the next two years.
Walker taps that money to help pay for a $692 million increase in aid to K-12 schools, forcing the Legislature to find some other source if it nixes the self-insurance idea and still wants to give schools as much as the governor proposed.
Associated Press writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this report from Milwaukee.
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