Marinette High School hosts final state budget hearing

MARINETTE, Wis. (WBAY) - The sixth and final public hearing on Governor Scott Walker's proposed state budget was held at Marinette High School by members of the Joint Finance Committee. More than one hundred people from all over the state spoke to lawmakers, advocating for funding for public schools, lower property taxes and a decrease in UW College system tuition.

A big part of the discussion for lawmakers was transportation funding.

The budget proposal initially called for borrowing half billion dollars for transportation, moreover, delaying highway projects to deal with a projected $1 billion shortfall. The Joint Finance Committee has now pulled Governor Walker's transportation proposal from the budget. Leaders like Republican Rep. John Nygren say they plan to start from scratch and come up with their own plan for transportation funds.

Some Democrats say the governor will likely back-pedal on his pledge not to increase taxes to fund transportation. Senator Jon Erpenbach of Middleton told Action 2 News, "The roads are atrocious. We all know that. And what the governor has proposed is just essentially let's borrow some more money and patch a couple of pot holes and move on. So I expect transportation to probably be the tougher part of the budget. We all know that we need to have a long-term fix and we need a short term fix as well."

Nygren said, "We're pretty lucky here in northeast Wisconsin, if you look at the different regions of the state. Roads are actually fair—at least from the main highways are pretty good—but I think what we're hearing over and over again isn't necessarily the major highways, it's town and county roads that are the struggle, so we do need to find a long-term solution. Dale Kooyenga, my vice chair and I, are working on putting up a proposal that we should hopefully be able to release pretty soon."

Governor walker's budget proposal increases K-12 investments to $11.5 billion dollars over two years, an all-time high, and includes $649 million in new state aids for Wisconsin K-12 schools.

John LaCourt, Marinette School Board President said, "This would help our district and give us $450,000 each year, and that would closely balance out our budget."

Democrats say this increase doesn't make up for cutting more than $1 billion from school aid over the past six years.

Democratic Representative Gordon Hintz said, "We've seen a record number of school districts have to turn to property taxpayers just to make up for the cuts that the governor's made in the last six years, and adding new funding in this budget will help, but the reality is the cost of inflation, and a lot of the other challenges we're seeing with mental health issues really require investment not just in the next two years, but two years from now."

The governor's budget proposal would also freeze tuition for in-state students in the UW system in 2018, and cut students' tuition in 2019, which was praised by some representing the colleges.

However, not all Republicans are on board."I don't believe we can continue to freeze UW tuition forever; that's not feasible. So I'm willing to have that dialogue,” said Nygren.

When asked for a timeline on the possible passage of the budget, Democrats indicated they might hit a snag with the transportation debate, but ultimately hope it is passed in June.