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Rep. John Nygren: State should use a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer in response to coronavirus challenge

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Rep. John Nygren

Rep. John Nygren

Gov. Tony Evers recently requested more than $1 billion, a blank check for the state Department of Health Services, and virtually limitless taxpayer-funded employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know we all want to help our friends and neighbors during this crisis, but as the Assembly chair of the Joint Committee on Finance that oversees the state budget, I wanted to make sure you understand the fiscal state of Wisconsin and the economic impact the outbreak will have on the state budget.

Like the countless small businesses around the state struggling to make payroll and keep the lights on, the state also runs on a fixed budget. We cannot, and should not, spend more than we take in, and we are required by law to have a balanced budget. Making matters more difficult, state revenue collections will undoubtedly be lower than we previously thought due to the COVID-19 health emergency.

From 2008 to 2009 during the last recession, the reduction in state tax collections was over 7%, which was a loss of nearly $1 billion in one year. It took nearly 3 years for collections to rise back to the 2008 level.

While no one disagrees we need to do all we can to win this battle, we should do so in a targeted way. By using a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer, we can invest in our priorities in the most effective way. This is exactly how we approached the current state budget, which invested $1.6 billion in Wisconsin’s health care system.

Estimates show Wisconsin is in line to receive more than $3 billion in federal funding to combat this pandemic, and we should utilize these resources before dipping into state funds. We should not pay twice for the same thing.

It’s not only unlimited spending that Gov. Evers has asked for. He has also proposed doing away with voter ID and taking away legislative oversight of appropriations and position authorization.

As nurses and doctors around the state perform lifesaving duties, possibly without proper personal protection equipment, now is not the time to strip our state’s voter ID law right before an election or replace the Legislature with unelected bureaucrats, such as Gov. Evers is thinking about.

While we have been blessed over the last few years with a strong economy, we cannot assume steady waters forever. Republicans have worked hard to put Wisconsin in a strong financial shape, and we should not completely reverse course as Gov. Evers has irresponsibly proposed.

Over the last few budgets, we have prepared for this moment by investing heavily in our state’s rainy-day fund, which now has a balance of over $650 million. Republicans have also significantly cut state debt. In contrast, Gov. Evers’ budget proposal would have left a $2 billion deficit leading into the next budget. The Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has $1.9 billion and is in much better shape now than it was before the last recession.

Additionally, we know your money is best left with you, not bureaucrats in Madison. Thanks to Republican tax cuts, Wisconsin’s tax burden is the lowest it has been in 50 years. As families across the state tighten up their budgets, they can do so with a little more money in their pockets.

Our goals should be the same. We need to take care of those who are hurting, support those who are on the front lines, and assure sufficient testing and care is being delivered to our most vulnerable. Together we can and will get through this.

Thank you to the thousands of Wisconsinites who continue to put their community first.

Nygren, R-Marinette, represents the 89th Assembly District.


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