Howard Marklein

Howard Marklein

I have been preparing to cast a final vote on the state budget since the Joint Finance Committee, of which I am a member, passed the budget on Wednesday, Sept. 6. As a part of this preparation, I took time to review our actions since beginning deliberations last spring, and there is a lot of “good” in this budget.

A document as large and detailed as a state budget is never going to be 100 percent perfect. There are always going to be things that I like − and those I do not like. We will get some things we want (and fight for) − and there will be some things we don’t get (and fought for). There will also be some things I don’t like − and have spoken against.

At the end of the day, I have to consider whether this budget, and the work I’ve put into it, is worth my vote. The answer this time is “yes.”

There is a lot of “good” in this budget, especially for the residents of the 17th Senate District. As your state Senator, I am proud of the budget-items I was able to successfully include in this massive plan on behalf of the citizens I represent. I am also proud of the overall tone, intent and achievements of the budget.

Following is my list of the Top 10 Good Things in the state Budget:

1. Education – We spent $639 million more on K-12 education, which is significantly more than the last budget. It is also the highest spending on K-12 education in the history of our state. Every school district will receive $200 and $204 more per student in the next two years. We also maintained funding for sparsity aid and high cost transportation aid.

2. Transportation – Rural roads are a priority and received increased funding through an 8.5 percent increase for local transportation projects and $40 million more, or a 9.5 percent increase, to general transportation aids. We also increased the local bridge program by $7.5 million annually and accelerated a local project in the 17th District − Hwy. 154 in Sauk County. We did all of this while maintaining a reasonable level of bonding that has a future funding stream when the PECFA bond payments sunset.

3. Rural Broadband – We allocated a minimum of $11 million more for rural broadband expansion grants, created a future funding stream for this grant program and improved the criteria for administering the grants.

4. Cut taxes – We ended two taxes completely! There is no longer a state property tax or an alternative minimum tax. We also made major progress toward ending the personal property tax, which impacts businesses, especially small businesses, throughout the state. We also restored the historic rehabilitation tax credit program, which is important to our small town main streets. We did all of this while holding the line on property taxes and keeping them below 2014 levels.

5. University System – This budget freezes in-state tuition at the UW System while increasing funding by $31 million through a performance funding model and innovation fund. We also secured funding for two building projects at UW-Platteville (see 7).

6. Health care – We increased disproportionate share hospital payments and rural critical care supplements as well as nursing home reimbursement rates and personal care worker rates. We also created a $1.5 million graduate medical training grant program, allocated $500,000 to training for allied health professionals and another $500,000 for advanced practice clinicians.

7. 17th District – In addition to our work on K-12 education, rural road funding, tax reform and rural broadband, all of which have major impacts in the 17th District, we also secured funding for UW-Platteville to build Sesquicentennial Hall and to renovate Boebel Hall with a combined allocation of $78 million. We accelerated the Hwy. 154 resurfacing project in Sauk County between Loganville and the Richland County line. We provided relief for the vVillage of Cassville and created a forensic unit at Sand Ridge.

8. Government reform – We reformed government by reducing unfilled positions, creating a sales tax exemption for building materials for UW, allowing the state park system to make decisions to be self-sustaining and streamlined processes in many agencies.

9. Planning for our future – The structural deficit will be the third lowest since 1999, and we secured the largest rainy day fund in our state’s history. We will end the biennium with almost $200 million in cash.

10. Bonding – We accomplished all of these good things with the lowest level of bonding since 2003.

For more information and to connect with me, visit my website legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.

Republican Howard Marklein, Spring Green, represents the 17th state Senate District.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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