The Wisconsin legislature is entering a new phase in the budget debates; one seldom seen in recent years. With the Assembly and Senate miles apart on state priorities, the budget now lies in the hands of eight members who make up the Conference Committee.
The two visions of what our state should be contained in the Senate and Assembly budgets are quite different. The results for our schools, the environment, and our local governments will be dramatically different.
We all have expectations for our state and public services. We expect the police and fire department to come on time; we expect schools and universities to prepare students for the future; we expect our neighborhoods to be free of pollution and our water to be clean; we expect programs that work to serve those less fortunate and we expect taxes to be fair.
But these things don’t just happen. They are the result of the decisions of leaders and the careful compliance by our public servants. The system starts with adequate money in the budget and continues with frugal and wise actions by those who spend the money.
What is in the state budget is important to all of us because without state resources, much of what we expect of our public services would not happen. For example, roads that were once asphalt are turned back into gravel.
County government has seen dramatic increases in costs – in health care, fuel, asphalt. County aid has been unchanged for several years. Rather than support the $15 million (a modest 1.7% increase) added by the Senate, the Assembly cut $67 million for local government aid, money sorely needed for local services.
The Assembly leadership rejected the Governor’s plan to tax the profits of oil companies creating a large hole in the transportation budget and eliminating the small increase that the Senate provided to counties and cities for local roads.
The Assembly Majority failed to raise the tipping fee for dumping waste – a problem that has lured out of state trash to the Eau Claire area. When they rejected the fee, the Assembly Majority failed to raise the revenue needed for recycling and environmental projects. They rejected a program to clean up PCB pollution; rejected local government grants for recycling; and cut many aspects of environmental protection including pollution clean up and emergency response training.
The Assembly budget lifted the ban on new nuclear plants but cut the Office of Energy Independence and failed to fund $30 million in grants and loans for renewable energy proposed by the Governor and the Senate.
The Governor and the Senate added a cushion to the state’s checkbook. The state has little in a ‘rainy day fund’. We added a $130 million ‘statutory balance’. This is a bit like having that extra $100 in your checkbook. Those who give the state its credit score have suggested that the amount should be even higher. The reserve was taken down to zero in the Assembly version of the budget.
From eliminating the Homestead Exemption Credit for single, childless adults who make less than $24,000 a year, to cutting higher education by over $100 million, cutting the Technical College system, cutting all state funding for public television and public radio, and cutting $95 million to local schools, the Assembly budget does not reflect the needs and priorities of the people.
What did the Assembly Majority add? Legal protection for companies responsible for making faulty products and a tax exemption for those who buy gold bullion.
Have comments about the state’s priorities? Write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or firstname.lastname@example.org; call Black River Falls (715) 284-1730; Eau Claire at (715) 838-0448 or Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free). Visit my website at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen31/news/