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Kleefisch: Proposed $76B budget ‘investment in state’s future’

March 22, 2017 GMT

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget would be a $76 billion investment in Wisconsin’s education, workforce development, local roads and more, says Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

Kleefisch, of Oconomowoc, has been hitting the road to promote the proposed 2017-19 biennial budget -- one that she says is realistic in terms of available revenue and responsive to the priorities that people conveyed to Walker during his recent 72-county tour.

“The governor and I see this as an investment in the state’s future,” Kleefisch said Tuesday during a stop at the Portage Daily Register.

With a goal of having the budget adopted by June -- it’s scheduled to take effect on July 1 -- Kleefisch said lawmakers will put their touches on it, and the public will have input at six hearings statewide, starting April 3.

Ask Kleefisch about her personal favorite part of the budget, and she’ll point to a projected $300 million in the budget stabilization fund balance, commonly called the “rainy day fund.” As a mother (she and her husband, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, have two daughters), Kleefisch said it’s reassuring to know that the state is prepared to deal with any unexpected emergency that might crop up.

But the linchpin of the budget, she said, is the proposed investment in K-12 education, the University of Wisconsin System and the state’s technical colleges -- all with the goal of ensuring that Wisconsin businesses have a qualified workforce.

With a January statewide unemployment rate of 3.9 percent, she said, Wisconsin employers are struggling to find workers. And if they don’t, then they might consider moving their companies out of state or overseas.

As of Tuesday, Kleefisch said, the Department of Workforce Development’s website jobcenterofwisconsin.com listed about 95,000 available jobs statewide.

Alex Lech of Kleefisch’s staff said 54,624 of those jobs were posted directly by Job Center of Wisconsin, with the rest coming from other job websites.

Of those 53,624 jobs, he said, 43,915 offer benefits (about 80 percent), and 47,379 of the jobs (87 percent) are full-time, full-time or part-time, full-time or part-time temporary or full-time temporary. The rest are on-call, part-time or part-time temporary jobs, he said.

Kleefisch noted, too, that the jobs listed by Job Center of Wisconsin require a wide range of different skills and experience levels.

“We need labor, we need workers, we need talent,” Kleefisch said, “in order to have our economy function.”

Toward that end, she said, Walker’s budget proposes a $649 million increase in K-12 school spending over the next two years, enough to increase the per-pupil payments to schools by more than $200 in each year of the budget.

But for a school district to receive those increases, it would have to prove full compliance with the 2011 state law known as Act 10, which removed most collective bargaining rights for most public employees, including teachers.

Some critics have also raised concern that the proposal calls for the same per-pupil increase in both prosperous school districts and those with a preponderance of pupils from low-income households, without allowing extra assistance for meeting the challenges often faced by pupils who live in poverty.

“Children are children,” Kleefisch said, and “regardless of where they live, we believe they are entitled to get a great education.”

The K-12 proposal also includes something else, she said: an addition to high school students’ academic and career planning programs, to teach three components that she said greatly increase the chance of adult financial success. Those components include graduation from high school, getting a full-time job and delaying marriage and having children until at least age 21.

Added funding to the UW System, a freeze in in-state tuition for the first year of the budget and a 5 percent decrease in in-state tuition in the second year, all are designed to ensure better access to education and job skills, Kleefisch said.

She characterized the proposals, however, as “performance-based” -- tied to the universities’ success at placing graduates in Wisconsin-based jobs and the rate at which students graduate in four years or less.

In transportation, Kleefisch said, Walker’s budget proposal calls for a boost in state aid for the maintenance, repair and replacement of local roads -- something that many people called for in statewide meetings about road quality, including one held in September at the Columbia County Highway Department offices in Wyocena.

The proposed budget also calls for a requirement that able-bodied childless adults either work or receive job-related training at least 80 hours per month to qualify for Food Share, and for changes in the Wisconsin Shares taxpayer-funded child care program so that parents who improve their professional standing with additional work hours and more job responsibility will not abruptly lose their qualification for child care assistance, but rather would be asked to contribute gradually-increased co-payments.

The public can talk to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance about the budget at six public meetings scheduled throughout the state: April 3 at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville; April 5 at State Fair Park, West Allis; April 7 at Berlin High School; April 18 at Spooner High School; April 19 at Ellsworth High School and April 20 at Marinette High School.

Berlin, about 57 miles from Portage in Green Lake and Waushara counties, would be the closest site for Columbia County and Marquette County residents.