Gas tax foes, public education supports testify on budget

The dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. (AP) -- Opponents of raising the gas tax to pay for roads and supporters of increasing funding for public schools made their cases to Wisconsin lawmakers Monday at the first of six public hearings.

The hearing, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, gave people a chance to weigh in on Gov. Scott Walker's two-year $76 billion spending plan. After the six public hearings, the Joint Finance Committee will reconvene, likely in early May, at the Capitol to start taking votes on changing the budget.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that popular topics among scores of students, teachers, municipal employees, business leaders and advocacy groups who testified Monday included more funding for public schools, restoration of cuts to the Department of Natural Resources and keeping certain student fees mandatory at the University of Wisconsin.

Tom Poppe, 65, a retired state employee whose wife is a public school teacher, wore a "Go Public" T-shirt sponsored by the Wisconsin Public Education Network. Poppe was advocating for a $300 per pupil increase in K-12 education, or $100 more than what Walker proposed. Poppe also opposed any increase in funding for private voucher schools, which state law now ties to an increase in public school funding.

"I see that as a horrible transfer of funding that the people of the state don't want," Poppe said.

Carl Wiggert carried a "Don't Tread on Me" flag and wore a T-shirt sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin that read "The Burden Is Too Heavy. Stop the Gas Tax Hike." He shook his head as public education proponents testified.

"All I heard was parasites," Wiggert said as he waited to speak. "I'm willing to pay someone to convince me why I'm paying so much in taxes."

Walker's budget doesn't call for an increase in the gas tax and he's threatened to veto any gas tax hike. Some Republicans are keeping the option open as they criticize his proposal to close a nearly $1 billion transportation funding shortfall with more borrowing and project delays.

Walker has been touring the state to promote a $649 million increase in funding for schools.

"When we heard this year there's going to be an increase in funding we could finally maybe breathe a little bit," testified Jamie Nutter, district administrator of the Fennimore School District.

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