Republicans on the Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee have rejected Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to freeze tuition at Wisconsin’s technical colleges.
Walker called for a two-year tuition freeze at the Wisconsin Technical College System. He also proposed increasing state spending on technical colleges by $5 million per year to offset the lost tuition revenue.
Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, said Walker’s plan would have increased the state’s subsidization of tech colleges, where Nygren said the cost of an education is already low.
"We believe it’s affordable," Nygren said. "We believe that other taxpayers don’t necessarily need to be continuing to contribute to buy down that cost artificially."
Republicans voted to use $2.5 million of the extra funding Walker proposed for technical colleges on higher education grants instead. Nygren said that would direct the funding to students who need tuition help the most.
That leaves lawmakers with $2.5 million left over that they could spend on other state expenses.
The plan passed the budget committee on a 12-4 party-line vote with all Democrats opposed.
Asked about the vote, Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor "will continue fighting to make college more affordable."
Democrats proposed making tuition at technical colleges free in Wisconsin, which failed on a party-line vote. The proposal would have cost the state approximately $555 million over the next two years, which Democrats argued the state could pay for by rescinding a tax break for manufacturers or accepting an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
In other action Thursday, the Joint Finance Committee:
- Rejected Walker’s plan to eliminate the Labor and Industry Review Commission, an independent agency responsible for resolving appeals of disputes over unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation decisions. Lawmakers also asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review the Commission’s decisions.
- Defeated a proposal by Democrats to reconsider the budget of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation following the latest critical audit of the agency, known as WEDC. Last week, Republicans voted to restore WEDC’s loan program, which was suspended after a scathing audit two years ago. A new audit released Wednesday showed WEDC still isn’t properly tracking whether its grants and loans to businesses result in jobs being created or retained, which is required by law. “They’re not being careful with peoples’ hard-earned money,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. Republicans said they would wait for the Legislative Audit Committee to review the most recent findings.
- Voted to nearly double the size of the property tax exemption for Marquette University, from 80 acres to 150 acres. “Can Milwaukee be stronger if Marquette is larger? The answer is yes,” said sponsor Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield. Democrats, including Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, voted against the plan, saying it could shift Milwaukee’s property tax burden to homeowners and businesses. “We can’t exist as a city if what we continue to do is to continue to give people the ability to not pay in, and to not pay their fair share,” Taylor said.
- Supported a plan by Walker to phase out the Educational Approval Board, which approves and supervises for-profit colleges in Wisconsin. The measure that cleared the budget committee would move the agency’s staff to the Department of Safety and Professional Services and phase out the board itself by July 2018.
- Changed Walker’s plans for Wisconsin’s share of the multi-state Volkswagen settlement. Lawmakers set aside $32 million of the settlement for state transit systems and another $10 million to replace the state’s vehicle fleet. Walker’s budget would have dedicated most of the settlement to buying new buses for Milwaukee County.
- Voted to restrict eligibility for the state’s homestead tax credit to people who are at least 62 years old, people who are disabled and people who earn income.