Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Governor’s Race Influences Budget

Joint Finance Democrats raise issues that could be used against Walker.

By - Jun 5th, 2017 10:11 am
Lena Taylor, Jon Erpenbach, Gordon Hintz and Katrina Shankland.

Lena Taylor, Jon Erpenbach, Gordon Hintz and Katrina Shankland.

With their party adrift at both the state and national levels, the four Democrats on the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC) are trying to tease out issues that may – or may not – work against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in next year’s election.

Because Republicans handily control both houses of the Legislature, there are 12 of them and four Democrats on JFC. Within weeks, the committee will forward a proposed 2017-19 budget to the full Legislature. If it’s not amended, separate Assembly and Senate votes could put that budget on Walker’s desk.

JFC’s four Democrats come from different regions of Wisconsin: Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee; Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of the Madison suburb of Middleton; Rep. Gordon Hintz, of Oshkosh, and Rep. Katrina Shankland, of Stevens Point.

Oshkosh, part of the Fox Valley, and Stevens Point are make-or-break areas for Democrats. Four years ago, three Democrats and one Republican represented the Stevens Point-area; Shankland is now the only Democrat.

With the Capitol focused on JFC, its Democrats have a chance to offer proposals they know won’t pass, but still lay down political markers for whoever will be the party’s nominee against Walker of what will – and won’t – work as campaign themes.

More than 10 Democrats have said they won’t run against Walker; five or six others are considering running. Whoever the candidate is, he or she has the luxury of embracing or abandoning the changes being floated by JFC’s Democrats.

JFC has not yet acted on several budget issues – K-12 and transportation funding, and tax reform – but its Democrats have already backed a $10 minimum wage, and shown what else the 12 Republicans oppose, on some major issues:

*Free technical college tuition: Democrats said the state’s 16 technical colleges, more than ever, offer a chance to train workers for future jobs. And, Democrats add, technical colleges are more nimble and affordable than the UW System’s four-year campuses.

But, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the non-partisan budget office, making all technical colleges tuition-free would cost about $555 million over the next two years. That’s cash state government does not have, Republicans said.

*Free tuition at two-year UW colleges: Democrats said the two-year campuses offer students a chance to learn whether they like and can succeed in college, while commuting from home and families. Because students at two-year colleges come from middle-class families, they deserve financial breaks, Democrats added.

But, according to LFB, making the two-year colleges tuition free would cost about $82 million over the next two years.

Republican Rep. John Nygren, a JFC cochair, dismissed the Democrats’ proposals. “Free college? News flash for you: Bernie Sanders lost. We don’t just get things for free in this country. We work for them.”

*Student debt: Democrats tried to attach to the budget the creation of a state agency to help students refinance their loans, saying Wisconsin residents are deeper in debt than most others nationally. Loan payments keep Wisconsin residents from buying cars and homes, Democrats added.

Republican Rep. Mary Felzkowski rejected that request, suggesting that students and their parents make better financial decisions to avoid going that deep in debt.

*High-capacity wells: Led by Shankland, Democrats fought the bill Walker signed into law last week that will allow 13,178 high-capacity wells – most of which are in the Central Sands region in and around Stevens Point – to be sold, replaced and repaired without a new permit from the Department of Natural Resources. Vegetable and potato growers pushed for that new law.

A former JFC cochair, Democratic Sen. Mark Miller, offered his party’s next candidate for governor a reason to use that against Walker.

“Gov. Walker finishes what legislative Republican started,” Miller said. “He privatized the waters of Wisconsin. Senate Bill 76 gives high capacity well owners a permit forever.”

There is one issue – transportation funding – where Democrats have been so far silent. The state transportation fund is hundreds of millions of dollars short of being able to keep current projects on schedule, but Walker has vowed to veto any tax or fee increase and wants to borrow $500 million to keep some major projects on track.

When JFC takes up transportation funding, the four Democrats will have to lead, follow or get out of Republicans’ way.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

More about the SB 76

Read more about SB 76 here

14 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Governor’s Race Influences Budget”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    They can raise the issues all they want (as they should as the issues are relevant), but without a viable candidate that won’t amount to much. Dana Wachs? What’s his name recognition statewide? 5%?

  2. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Never underestimate the Dems or any opponent.

  3. Jason says:

    Democrats do not need great ideas. Bill Clinton strategist, James Carville use to say, “its the economy stupid.” The national economy has a 50 percent chance of tanking now or near Walker 2018. Walker must hope tax cuts and health reform pass nationally. Democrats have to sabotage Trumps efforts to make America great again.

  4. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Dead-end doofus Jason thinks that Obama and “liberals” was the reason Wisconsin’s job growth fell by 70% in 2016.

    Sorry kid. The real reason was the Dropout Guv, who will likely place Wisconsin,in the bottom 1/4 in the US for jobs after passing work-for-less and cutting $250 mil from the UW.

    And even Walker’s own GOPs know his current budget is gimmicks and garbage, which is why they’ve broken off budget talks and likely wont get one passed in time for the new Fiscal Year that starts on July 1.

  5. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Doyle spent 8 years and lost 130,000 jobs total. Walker is ahead. Doyle cut 250 million, nowWalker giving some back.

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    Ha tax cuts for the wealthy stimulating the economy. Good one Jason. Trickle down was only disproven what 40 years ago now?

  7. Jason says:

    Vince, 40 years ago, Ronald Reagan had a month during his presidency where the country created one million jobs and what was the best Obama could do 250, 000. Putting money back into the tax payers hands usually creates jobs and pushes up the value of pensions for teachers and fire fighters.

  8. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Hey Dumb Dohnal- You got an explanation why Wisconsin added more than twice as many jobs in Doyle’s last year (2010) than we did in 2016? Especially since Obama was the president for both years?

    It is laughable to see whiny righties like Dohnal and Walker complain about the Doyle years while conveniently forgetting that DUBYA DESTROYED THE MIDWEST’S ECONOMY.

    The failure is all Scotty’s in these parts. Own it.

  9. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    We have full employment in Wis. People cannot find people for jobs. Most people ever working at one time. that is record. Reagan did that coming out of slump after medicine on inflation had been given to top Carter mess.
    doyle was compete disaster for UW, schools, crime, roads a big mess. Walker fixed that.

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    Walker fixed crime? There’s no more crime? And he fixed roads even though the legislature is fighting about road funding as I type? And he fixed education funding? Wow.

  11. Vincent Hanna says:

    Jason if that were true Kansas would be thriving instead of the economic disaster and cautionary tale that it is. You don’t cut your way to growth. That is Econ 101 man. You must have skipped that class.

  12. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    did not say that. Doyle /Barett caused these problems: roads, crime, education UW, that Walker is trying to fix.

  13. Vincent Hanna says:

    WCD at 7:27am: “Walker fixed that.”

    WCD at 9:33am: “Did not say that. Walker is trying to fix.”

    Only took you two hours to change your story. Well-played WCD.

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