Budget Hearing Provides Opportunity for Public Input

The state budget affects the life of every person in our great state. From schools and health care to parks and roads, all of the activities of state government are funded through a process that begins again every two years.

Next week people in our area will have an opportunity to comment on how our tax dollars are spent. The Joint Committee on Finance is holding a public hearing on March 27, 2007, at the Chippewa County Courthouse, 711 North Bridge Street, in the Assembly Room located on the lower level – Rooms 1 and 3. The hearing will begin at noon and conclude by 5 p.m. The hearing is free, open to the public and all members of the public are invited to come and testify.

The hearing is one of six public hearings held in communities around the state. For us, next week’s hearing provides a chance for committee members to learn of the important issues facing Western Wisconsin.

The Joint Committee on Finance is the most powerful committee in the Wisconsin legislature. This committee controls the process of changing the governor’s budget requests – all 1,757 pages – into legislation. Its sixteen members include eight Democrats, eight Republicans and members are evenly split between the Assembly and the Senate. Because of its structure and purpose, the committee must compromise to complete its charge of funding the state. If it fails, state activities shut down. So the budget bill must pass.

One of the most challenging aspects of my job is bringing the reality we face in Western Wisconsin to Madison and being confronted with a culture that is very different and has very different priorities. Very often I am faced with people angling to get funding for what I would consider ‘icing on the cake’, while, in our neighborhood, we can’t afford to heat the house and put shoes on the children. An example that comes to mind is the effort to pass a refundable tax credit for Hollywood film production companies while we at home are struggling to pave for rural roads, fix schools, provide police protection and help local businesses compete.

The answer to our local problems is complex, but one place to begin is to make sure the folks in power know the problems we face. So often the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the noise is loud in southeast Wisconsin. I can do the best job advocating for our area by knowing the problems people are facing. Likewise, the Finance Committee can do its job best by knowing the problems we face.

Over the next several months, this committee will be making decisions about the governor’s budget request. Often it is the stories of people and communities, the stories of how the budget priorities affect lives back home that are the key to influencing the

debate about where money goes. Please come to the hearing and share your ideas on how the state should spend our tax dollars.

If you have ideas or concerns, please call us. In Black River Falls at (715) 284-1730; In Eau Claire at (715) 838-0448 or in Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free); or write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or email Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov.