MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday signed the long-delayed state budget, a spending plan he will tout as he travels the state transitioning into full-time campaign mode for his re-election bid next year.
Walker signed the budget at an elementary school in Neenah, emphasizing the two-year spending plan's nearly 6 percent increase in K-12 funding, its freeze on University of Wisconsin tuitions and its property tax cuts for the typical home.
"We're thrilled about the things that are in here," Walker said, standing in front of students who later gathered with Republican lawmakers around the governor as he signed the bill into law.
The $76 billion plan, which should have been completed by July 1, is the only bill that must pass this session and funds the priorities of Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature. It will also be the target for Democrats in next year's election.
Democrats challenging Walker are zeroing in on tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy, the lack of a long-term road-funding solution and education funding that they say doesn't go far enough to make up for previous cuts.
"Without question we can fix our roads and fund our schools at the same time," said state Superintendent Tony Evers in his annual state of education speech at the Capitol that was happening at the same time Walker was signing the budget. "We have to push past the politics and dare greatly. We need some adults in the room."
In what sounded a lot like a gubernatorial stump speech, Evers invoked Teddy Roosevelt — but never mentioned Walker — saying we live in "challenging times." He called for finding solutions for road and education funding and repeated the Democratic call to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, saying such a move would free up more money for schools and other priorities.
His tone was markedly more critical than in February when he praised Walker's budget, which allocates $639 million more to K-12 schools, as "pro-kid" and "an important step forward."
Other Democrats challenging Walker also said the budget falls short of meeting the state's needs.
Political activist Mike McCabe said solving the road-funding problem took a backseat to providing tax cuts to the wealthy. The budget eliminates the alternative minimum income tax, which is primarily paid by people making between $200,000 and $500,000 a year.
Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik said Walker put special interests ahead of the things that real people care about, like schools and roads. Bob Harlow, a recent Stanford University graduate and a political newcomer, said the budget doesn't do enough to help struggling public schools.
Democratic state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, voted against the budget, saying Walker was using it to try and make voters forget about previous cuts he made to K-12 schools and the university system.
"This is nothing but a re-election stunt," Wachs said.
Republican lawmakers who voted for the budget have also expressed disappointment that it relies on $400 million in additional borrowing to pay for roads and also delays ongoing projects. There's also a new fee on hybrid and electric vehicles.
There's also been bipartisan criticism for one of Walker's 99 partial budget vetoes. He struck down an increase in revenue caps on low-spending districts, a priority for Assembly Republicans, saying he worried about giving those mostly rural schools the ability to get more money from local property taxes.
One of the harshest critics of that veto, budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren, said there was still a lot to like.
"There is something in this budget to help everyone and I believe it is an easy budget to support," he said in a statement.
Walker indicated earlier this week that he's likely to officially launch his campaign for a third term in early November, a year before the general election.