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Gov. Scott Walker has instructed state agencies to assume their next budgets will have no increases in state funding, with exceptions for some of the budget’s priciest areas such as schools, prisons and Medicaid.

Walker’s instructions came in a new directive to all state agency heads.

Among the budget areas to which the directive applies are colleges, universities and transportation projects.

The budget instructions are the first step toward crafting the next two-year state budget. That process will unfold next year, after the upcoming gubernatorial election in which Walker is seeking a third term.

The state budget is set by a law enacted by the governor and the Legislature. Before that, state agencies submit budget requests to the governor, who then proposes a budget to kickstart legislative debate in early 2019.

Higher education advocates have lamented the budget picture in recent years for state colleges and universities. The University of Wisconsin System got a $36 million increase in the current two-year budget, but it came on the heels of a $250 million cut in the previous cycle.

UW System President Ray Cross said in a statement Tuesday that university leaders “will continue to advocate for the UW System, our students, families and the taxpayers of Wisconsin.”

“After the last budget’s reinvestment in the UW System, the Board and I look forward to working with the Governor and legislators to develop a reasonable budget request that strategically aligns taxpayer resources with the state’s greatest needs,” Cross said.

A disagreement among statehouse Republicans on transportation spending delayed passage of the current budget by more than two months last year. Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans, especially in the state Assembly, said a revenue infusion was needed for state highways, while others, including Walker and an influential bloc of Senate Republicans, resisted.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not immediately comment Tuesday on Walker’s instructions.

The current state budget runs through June 30, 2019. If enacted on time, the next one would run from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2021.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.