MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker proposed an income tax cut targeted to the middle class as part of a state budget introduced Wednesday that would keep property taxes nearly flat, expand the private school voucher program, continue a public school spending freeze and tighten Medicaid income eligibility.
The $68 billion two-year budget Walker delivered to the Republican-controlled Legislature would increase state spending 3 percent the first year and 2.1 percent more the second. Democrats blasted Walker's priorities, saying he should have done more to help public schools, taken a federally funded expansion of Medicaid that's being rejected, and done more to help the middle class.
"Our focus is simple — more prosperity, better performance and true independence," Walker said in his 40-minute speech. "Our middle class tax cut is a down payment on my goal of reducing the tax burden in our state every year I'm in office. I want to cut taxes over and over and over again until we are leading the country in economic recovery."
Walker's proposal will be debated by the Legislature's budget committee over the next four months, then be voted on by both the Senate and Assembly sometime before it takes effect in July.
Much of Walker's plan will find broad support among Republicans, but other key portions will run into trouble with members of his own party and nearly all Democrats.
"The governor's proposals are bad for the short term and bad for the long term in Wisconsin," said Rep. Peter Barca, Democratic minority leader in the Assembly.
One of the most problematic of Walker's proposals is his planned expansion of the private school voucher program to any district that has at least 4,000 students and two schools receiving a D or F grade on new state report cards.
Enough Republican state senators have already voiced opposition to the plan to block it in the Senate. Walker has pledged to work with them to address their concerns.
Walker said that his goal is to "ensure that every child — regardless of where they are from or what their family income is — has access to a great education."
Walker's proposed $181 million increase in funding for the University of Wisconsin System drew praise from UW leaders. In the last budget, Walker cut UW funding by $315 million.
"This is the best budget we have seen in many cycles," said UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward.
Walker's proposal to eliminate requirements that public employees live in the city they serve, an issue that's been debated for years in Milwaukee but is the law in dozens of communities statewide, will trigger a fierce debate.
Walker had released most of the major portions of the budget in the weeks leading up to his address before the Legislature, except for how the income tax — which equates to a 2.2 percent reduction — would be structured.
Under this plan, a family of four with an income of $80,607 would save $212 over two years.
Walker calls for cutting the taxable rates on individuals up to $161,180 and couples earning up to $214,910. The lowest rate, for individual income up to $10,750, would drop from 4.6 percent to 4.5 percent. The rate on income in the next bracket, for individuals earning up to $21,490, would decrease from 6.15 percent to 5.94 percent. And the third bracket, for individuals making up to $161,180, would decrease from 6.5 percent to 6.36 percent.