Guest Column from Rep. Jim Steineke – December 23, 2015
2015 In Review
As we near the end of 2015, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the top legislative highlights of this past year.
Assembly Republicans have continued to make government run more efficiently for the taxpayers of our great state. A main focus of 2015 was to approve the biennual budget bill. The final budget contained changes prompted by public input that invested more money in our public schools, froze tuition for in-state college students, preserved long-term care programs and held the line on property taxes.
We kept medical costs down for seniors by making sure that SeniorCare continues to be an option to buy prescriptions. Since this program was implemented in 2001, it's enabled seniors to purchase supplemental prescription coverage to help with medications that may not be covered by Medicare.
A top priority this year was eliminating fraud, waste and abuse in public benefit programs to ensure that taxpayer-funded benefits are used to help individuals who are most in need. As we all know, public benefits exist to help those who have fallen on hard times and need temporary taxpayer assistance. Investing in fraud prevention efforts is a sensible way for state government to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure the integrity of our public benefit system.
Passing the Civil Service Reform Bill was another legislative highlight this year. Once this bill becomes law, civil service laws will mirror best practices from the private sector. The state’s hiring process will be more nimble and faster; top-quality employees will receive merit-pay bonuses; actions that are cause for immediate dismissal will be clearly defined, and the appeals process will be streamlined giving employees certainty and saving taxpayer dollars. Ultimately, this proposal allows Wisconsin to keep pace with a changing workforce to meet the needs of a 21st century job market and prepare for a high number of state employee retirements expected in the near future.
Over this past year, our state’s economy has continued to steadily improve. The unemployment rate is at 4.2 percent, which is lower than the national rate and other states in the Great Lakes region. Our labor force participation rate of 68.2 percent was the ninth highest nationally in 2014 and well above the national average of 62.9 percent. Wisconsin's growth in gross domestic product since 2007 exceeds the region's growth over the same period. And the median household income, $58,080, is 8.2 percent above the national average, which is the largest margin by which Wisconsin has exceeded the national average in almost 15 years.
Property taxes are on the decline thanks to our reforms with the median-valued home based on statewide average tax rates to be lower today than when Republicans first took control of the legislature which was in 2011. A recent study identified Wisconsin’s property tax burden as the lowest in 70 years.
There’s much to be grateful for here in Wisconsin as we look back on 2015 and look ahead to 2016. I appreciate my constituents of the 5th Assembly District who have taken the time over this past year to attend my office hours or contacted me to share your thoughts. It is an honor to serve you in the State Assembly, and I look forward to continuing to represent you in the coming year.