Rep. Mark Spreitzer E-Update June 1, 2015

BUDGET UPDATE

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has entered the final stages of its deliberations, and has addressed many of the controversial funding items in the Republican budget, including K-12 education and SeniorCare.

Last week, the committee focused on the UW System, long-term care programs, and the Department of Natural Resources. Below are major highlights of the latest budget activities.

Sometime this week, the committee will address transportation funding (including local roads, bike/pedestrian paths, and the I-39/90 expansion), taxes and other revenue, and the Milwaukee Bucks arena. I will keep you updated as I learn more.

UW SYSTEM

Last Friday, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee gave their approval to a $250 million cut from the UW System over the biennium and made changes to current law that dealt an additional blow to our state's higher education system.

Republicans patted themselves on the back for reducing the Governor's cut by $50 million, but still approved a quarter billion dollar cut that will result in faculty and staff layoffs and hurt educational quality across the UW System. Republicans on the committee specifically targeted several critical programs such as the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative, the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board and grants, solid waste research funding, and UW-Extension recycling education funding.

Republicans deleted tenure from state statute while claiming that the "UW System plans to maintain it." Tenured faculty are not immune from being terminated, but are protected from termination for anything other than "cause," such as poor performance or misconduct. This is meant to protect faculty's ability to research and publish without fear of political retribution. Republicans also approved a new statutory provision that allows faculty/staff to be fired prior to the end of their contract due to "financial emergencies".

Republicans have compared these changes to 2011 Act 10, which dramatically reduced employment protections for most public employees while the state cut funding for schools and municipalities. This forced layoffs of teachers, police officers, firefighters, and many other public employees.

Republicans on the committee also gutted shared governance, a crown jewel of the UW System. Shared governance allows faculty and students to help decide how their university runs, and be active participants in developing new policies. This gives students and faculty a stake in outcomes, rather than reducing them to powerless spectators, forced to accept all decisions handed down by administrators.

By changing the role of students, faculty and staff to merely "advise" the chancellor, while not requiring the chancellor to consider those opinions, JFC Republicans effectively disenfranchised major stakeholders.

Democrats attempted to introduce a reasonable alternative, but were voted down. Their proposal would have eliminated the $300 million cut while also providing the $95 million that UW-System asked for to maintain educational quality while keeping tuition frozen for in-state students. It included several of the "flexibilities" that UW-System asked for including independence on certain building projects, differential tuition for UW-SP and consolidating legislative reporting requirements.

Wisconsin is one of the only states in the country that continues to cut higher education despite the up-tick in the national economy. There is still time to speak with friends and family in other parts of the state and encourage them to contact their elected officials and relay just how important the UW System is to our state, and request full funding.

UW-Extension students, staff, and supporters in my office during their lobby day earlier this year. UW-Extension is facing budget cuts of $6.9 million and losing 65 full-time employees in the Governor's proposal.

 

UW-Rock County Chancellor Carmen Wilson visited my office in the Capitol and told me that UW-Rock County stands to lose over $275,000 each year under the Governor's budget proposal. UW-Rock County would have to cut 23 faculty and academic staff.

DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES

The Joint Finance Committee inserted a provision into the budget that would reverse the Governor's proposed freeze on stewardship fund purchases. Although Republicans provided $21 million annually for land acquisition, the program still received a $15 million annual cut. However, Republicans did restore full funding for the National Off-Highway Vehicle Insurance Service Group, the County Forests Association, and the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. Funding for other non-profit conservation organizations was restored to only 90% of current funding.

Regrettably, Republicans on the committee agreed with and approved the Governor's demand to cut 29.4 positions for the Bureau of Science Services and natural resource educators. These positions are vital to continuing the high-quality research and analysis the DNR does. Scientists are critical to the functions of the agency, but have seemingly drawn opposition for publication of studies and reports that do not conclude what some politicians and their high-powered donors want them to.

Republicans also slipped in a provision that prevents counties and the DNR from setting community-specific shoreland zoning standards. The motion loosens shoreland zoning standards and takes away local control. The current standards prevent harmful runoff from polluting our lakes, river and streams.

The Republican motion passed along party lines 12-4.

To counter these proposals, Democrats offered a motion to help preserve Wisconsin's strong conservation ethic. The motion reversed the Governor's freeze on the Stewardship Program and maintained its current borrowing authority. The motion also restored full funding for non-profit conservation organizations and provided additional funding for urban forestry grants. To maintain the use of science in the Department's decision-making and continue our state's conservation ethic through education, the motion restored 29.4 positions to the Bureau of Science Services and natural resource educators.

Lastly, in an effort to affirm and solidify the vital mission of the Department of Natural Resources, the Democratic motion would have added the DNR mission statement to state statutes. The mission statement specifies that the focus of the department is to protect and enhance our natural resources, our air, land and water; protect our wildlife, fish and forest, and the ecosystems that sustain all life. The full mission statement can be found here. The motion failed along party lines 4-12.

LONG-TERM CARE

Republicans removed all of the Governor's provisions related to Medicaid- Long Term Care, IRIS, and ADRCs. However, they introduced an omnibus motion to require the Department of Health Services to request a waiver from the federal government to make changes to FamilyCare and IRIS at a later date.

The Republican motion would not eliminate IRIS immediately, but allow the program to operate as-is until a waiver is approved by the federal government and changes to the long-term care program are implemented. After that, the self-direct option would be combined with the FamilyCare waiver - which is not at all what stakeholders and advocates had requested.

Clearly, Republicans continue to prioritize the wishes of for-profit insurance companies over Wisconsin's elderly and people with disabilities. Furthermore, the directions to DHS regarding the waiver are vague enough that families served by these programs will continue to suffer under the uncertainty of whether this new program will cut or change their support services.

In addition, Rock County, which does not yet have FamilyCare nor IRIS, will transition to these programs under the current proposal as county leaders have requested. Unfortunately, this transition will be clouded by uncertainty of how these programs may change in the near future.

420N State Capitol, PO Box 8953
Madison, WI 53708
Email: Rep.Spreitzer@legis.wisconsin.gov Ph: (608) 266-1192

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