Familiar issues brought to budget hearing in Stevens Point
By Larry Lee, WSAU Radio
STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAU) -- The proposed state budget continues to bring Wisconsinites to public hearings, and there were two more in central Wisconsin yesterday. People brought concerns to lawmakers in Marshfield in the morning, and at UW Stevens Point in the afternoon.
Republican Representative Scott Krug chaired the afternoon session, and says everywhere they go, they are hearing about the same major issues. "When it comes to university issues, K-12 issues, transportation, DNR, you know, Senior Care, Family Care, IRIS, all fo those types of things, we've been hearing them across the board, so it's nothing new today, and these are all issues we've all put motions in for already to make changes to."
Democrat Katrina Shankland says wherever she goes, nobody likes the proposed budget. "Whether it's the severe cuts to our DNR scientists, stewardship funding, the cuts to our public education while surging into the private voucher schools that are unaccountable, the 300 million dollar radical cut to the University of Wisconsin System, and the long term drastic changes to the programs that our elderly and people with disabilities rely on, everyone who attended today was very opposed to this budget."
Krug says the Legislature is more involved in the budget process this year, as they received the Governor's proposal earlier than usual, and because the Governor has a potentially bigger project to work on. "This cycle especially, I think we're going to see even more changes because things going the way they are, and with the Governor having other aspirations, I think the Legislature's taken some more initiative."
Representative Krug says UW budget cuts are probably not going to be at the 300 million dollar levels proposed by the Governor. he says many on both sides of the aisle oppose that drastic of a cut. "A lot of us have made amendments already, saying that the 150 million dollar cut would probably be the highest that any of us would be willing to go, so half of what the Governor proposed is where our starting point is for negotiations. I was one of the first legislators in the Republican caucus to come out and say hey, 300 million dollars just doesn't work."
Shankland continues to urge Republicans to pressure Governor Walker into accepting federal Medicaid dollars for BadgerCare, and wants to see more public education funding along with less voucher school funding. She says this budget isn't good for students or families. "This budget doesn't help these students get ahead, this budget doesn't help parents achieve their dreams of having their kids have better lives than them, so we've got work harder, and I really call on the Republican party to fix this budget cut."
When asked if there is enough money in the budget to fund everything without taking the federal Medicaid dollars for BadgerCare, Shankland says yes, and that it's a matter of priorities. One thing she would do differently is eliminate certain targeted tax breaks. "The Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit that's been phased in over the years has cost, right now, double what was originally budgeted, and will cost even more, about four times by the time it's fully phased in of what we budgeted. That's just not responsible fiscal leadership, and that's an example of a tax credit that benefits a few people when education benefits everyone."
Krug says legislators will be continuing to take testimony and suggestions from people around the state, even as the Joint Finance Committee starts voting on some of the issues today and again later this week. He says now is the best time to speak up. "So between April and May, now is the best time for an individual or groups of any kind to contact their legislators and say, hey, this thing doesn't work, so it's time for people to start weighing in and telling us exactly what they don't like and what we can do to help, I mean, don't just come saying, 'I don't like it' come with ideas of where we can help make some changes, too." The UW Stevens Point hearing was well attended by over 200 in the crowd. The panel included Krug and Shankland, plus Republican John Spiros of Marshfield, Democratic Representative Dana Wachs of Eau Claire and Republican Representative Nancy Vandermeer of Tomah.