GREENDALE, Wis. (AP) - The first of four public hearings on Gov. Scott Walker's $68 billion budget proposal attracted hundreds of people Thursday, with many speaking out against his plans to expand private school vouchers, reject a federal Medicaid reimbursement and remove a residency requirement for public workers.
The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee is holding the hearings across the state to take comment on the budget before reconvening later this month to begin voting on changes. That process will take a couple months and the full Legislature, also controlled by Republicans, is expected to pass the budget sometime in June.
Several people objected to Walker's plans for Medicaid, calling it a bad deal for the state. He is calling for lowering the income eligibility for poor adults in the BadgerCare program from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. A cap on a program for childless adults is being lifted to allow more people into the program, but others will be dropped because they earn too much money.
Under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, the federal government would have reimbursed the state the full cost of covering people up to 138 percent of poverty. Walker rejected that, saying he wasn't confident the federal government would stick with its commitment to pay.
Jim Tapio, a 67-year-old retired government employee from Milwaukee, testified his family could have saved thousands of dollars if Medicaid could cover the cost for his wife's wheelchairs.
Tapio called Walker's decision to turn down federal funding for Medicaid expansion irresponsible and arrogant.
"I couldn't believe he did that," Tapio said.
Walker's plan to expand the state's private school voucher program to nine cities beyond Milwaukee and Racine, while freezing public school spending, also drew opposition.
Ted Neitzke, superintendent at West Bend School District, said expanding voucher schools while giving public schools only a small increase in funding is a bad idea.
Two Senate Republicans, Sen. Mike Ellis of Neenah and Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon, have proposed a $150 per student increase in school funding in each of the next two years - an idea that would raise property taxes by about 10 cents per $1,000 in assessed value each year. But Walker has remained noncommittal on the proposal.
Not everyone spoke against the voucher plan; Walker drew praise from some speakers for providing scholarships to disabled students. His budget sets aside $21 million in grants for special needs students to receive vouchers to attend private schools.
The Rev. Willie Brisco, president of the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, called for improved public transit. He also said reform is needed in the state's justice system so young men aren't sent to prison for minor crimes.
Walker's plan would also remove the residency requirement for local government workers to live in the municipality or school district where they work. More than 100 municipalities across the state have such rules, and Milwaukee city officials have said they strongly oppose removing the requirement.
John Hermes, president of the Village of Greendale, said the village could not afford removing residency laws. He said it's critical that police and fire workers live nearby so they can respond to emergencies quickly.
The committee's next hearing was scheduled for Monday at Lambeau Field followed by one Wednesday in Lake Delton and April 18 in Baldwin.
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