Forty members of Polk Burnett Indivisible gathered for our monthly meeting last week in Siren. With news that the Joint Finance Committee, made up of members of the State Assembly and State Senate, would be conducting budget hearings in Spooner on April 18th, the group had a training session with Christian Foust from For Wisconsin’s Future on how to most effectively communicate concerns to the committee.
In Wisconsin, budgets are written in two-year cycles each odd year, so the budget that’s up for review currently will be in effect from mid-2017 to mid-2019. Where budgets are concerned, the governor solicits proposals from the various offices of state government from which a budget proposal is created. The legislature seeks public input at six hearings across the state. Three have already been held this year, in Platteville, Milwaukee and Berlin. The Spooner hearing is next, followed by a hearing in Ellsworth and concluding in Marinette on April 21st.
This budget, which covers the next election cycle, contains some surprises from Governor Walker including proposed increases in spending on the UW system and K-12 education, both areas that suffered significantly over the first six years of the Walker administration. While the increases don’t make up for the cuts both systems have endured under Walker, they do offer hope that, at least for the near term, relief may be coming. PBI members were shown how voucher schools, found mostly in urban areas, continue to siphon off funds from local public schools.
Republicans are divided on how to upgrade our roads and other infrastructure. The governor has indicated that he will not increase taxes and instead had proposed borrowing money to meet the need while Republican legislators have rejected that approach as fiscally irresponsible. With the 2018 election on the horizon, many are concerned that political considerations will trump the need for real solutions, leaving Wisconsin’s roadways, already among the worst in the nation, to suffer.
Members also raised concerns at last week’s meeting about the increasing number of non-budgetary items that get slipped into the budget proposal, often under the cover of darkness. This practice results in controversial measures getting passed without public input or legislative scrutiny. A recent example was the shoreland zoning change inserted into the last budget bill by Representative Adam Jarchow and Senator Tom Tiffany that effectively wiped out county zoning of lakes and rivers.
Each year since Walker came into office, the number of these non-budgetary items in the budget bill have increased, jumping from 87 to 130 in the last two budget cycles alone. This year, many citizens have expressed concerns about these non-fiscal items in the first three hearings, and several have already been discarded including those that would have eliminated Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law, allowed UW students to opt out of paying a UW student activities fee and one that would have removed the number of hours schools need to be in session in a given school year. Public input made a difference in all three issues.
Still being considered for inclusion in the bill are measures that would cut 43.5 full-time jobs in the DNR, raise camping fees and park admission to make up for drastic cuts in state funding, cut funding for dementia care and patient outreach that connects families with vital resources and support, destroy worker protections by eliminating the Labor and Industry Review Commission and continue tax giveaways to the wealthiest Wisconsinites. If left untouched, The Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit will return more than $650 million to high-income tax filers in the 2017 to 2019 budget cycle without creating a single job, a revenue loss that means other needs will go unmet.
PBI members will take a break from national issues over the next couple weeks to focus on these areas of concern, utilizing the opportunity to speak directly to the Joint Finance Committee at Spooner High School on Tuesday, April 19th. If you’d like to join us, plan to be there by 9 a.m. to sign up. You’ll have two minutes to present your concerns to the committee. Also mark your calendars for Friday night, May 12th and plan to join us for our Northwest Wisconsin Speaks listening session at the Siren Senior Center from 6:30 to 9. State and national officeholders have been invited, and you’ll have the opportunity to tell them what’s on your mind.