The budget put forth by Gov, Evers was truly a budget carefully crafted with the input of the people of Wisconsin.
The governor held numerous public listening sessions both before and after the release of his biennial budget. It was democracy in action: The meetings were open to everyone who wanted to share their priorities with no set time limits. I found it inspiring to be part of this process.
I have never seen a governor take that amount of time to truly listen to the people. The budget that passed the Legislature last week falls short of some of the goals the governor’s plan set to achieve, and does not prioritize the will of the people in some major policy areas, including Medicaid expansion and special education funding.
Below are the differences in the two budgets that I heard most about from constituents.
Accepting Medicaid expansion was the linchpin of Gov. Evers’ budget—and it’s what 70% of Wisconsin citizens support. By expanding Medicaid and bringing our federal tax dollars back to Wisconsin, Gov. Evers was able to leverage federal dollars to support health care initiatives -- leaving more state tax dollars to support our schools, universities and roads. Medicaid expansion would bring in $1.6 billion in new federal investment and save $324.5 million in state dollars. La Crosse County would have seen an increase of $53 million in new investment and would have been able to provide health care to more than 1,300 people. The Republican plan that moved forward rejected Medicaid expansion. Instead their plan spends an additional $300 million in state taxpayer dollars and rejects over $1 billion in federal dollars for Wisconsin.
Another major feature of Gov. Evers’ budget was a long-term solution to fund transportation. After years of neglect, it comes as no surprise to Wisconsin drivers that our roads rank as some of the worst in the nation. Repairs to our roads are desperately needed. The proposed increase to the gas tax, 8 cents a gallon, which equals $4 a month for the average driver, would ensure that all drivers using Wisconsin’s roads are contributing fairly to their upkeep. That includes drivers from states like Minnesota and Illinois who are also responsible for the wear and tear on our roads.
Instead, Republicans chose to significantly increase title and registration fees on only Wisconsin drivers, including an increase of title fees by $95 and automobile registration fees by $10 from $75 to $85, for a total fee revenue increase of nearly $400 million. It transfers $177 million in General Purpose Revenue to the transportation fund, including a one-time use of $90 million in budget surplus funds for local roads improvements. This plan is a one-time solution, rather than a sustainable, long-term investment in our roads.
The governor also believes that “what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state.” His budget proposed to invest in our kids by providing two-thirds funding for our public schools and historic levels of special education funding. In La Crosse, 14.2% of children qualify for special-education funding. The Republican budget fails to invest the needed dollars in special education, providing $509 million less than the governor. The La Crosse School District would have received nearly $5 million more in special-education funding under the governor’s plan. Further, the Republican proposal failed to follow the recommendations set forth by their own Blue Ribbon Commission on Education.
A similar stance was taken on higher education, with Republicans cutting the proposed UW-System budget in half. Our universities are a huge economic engine for the state, and create a talent pipeline. The economic investment in Wisconsin’s universities is 23:1, with a total impact of $24 billion on the state. Funding for the UW-System is funding for our future workforce.
The Republican budget also represents a major missed opportunity to address the water-quality crisis that Wisconsin is facing. While the Driftless Area is privileged to have many natural sources of water, not all areas meet their water-quality goals. Recently, high levels of nitrates have been found in an alarming number of La Crosse County wells. I am deeply concerned that making sure everyone in our state has access to clean, safe drinking water has not been prioritized.
Gov. Evers gets to make a final determination on the budget put before him. I trust that he’ll still be thinking of the people he sat with, the stories he heard, and the priories of the people as he considers possible vetoes.
I thank all my constituents who participated in listening sessions and who have contacted my office over the last several months on the budget. I value your active engagement in the process.