For Immediate Release: March 22, 2011
Contact: Rebekah Sweeney, (608) 266-3790
Jorgensen’s Journal: Budget Q&A
I’ve always said that effective legislators open their ears more than they open their mouths. That’s why I hold so many listening sessions each month – four at local restaurants as well as one at the Jefferson Senior Center. This month, I’m also participating in special forums, held to allow people an opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions about the Governor’s budget plans.
What I’m hearing at these events is a lot of upset – and a desire for good information about the budget adjustment bill and the budget to come. It’s great to be able to field questions one-on-one, but I have a feeling there are a lot of folks who haven’t had a chance to attend a listening session with the same kinds of concerns.
That’s why, with this week’s column, I’m going to do something a little different. This week, I’m going to try to touch on the most frequently asked questions from my constituents in the hope of providing you with details you need.
Question: When will the budget adjustment bill become law?
Answer: While the effective date of the budget adjustment bill was originally to be March 25th, it is now up in the air as a Dane County judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Secretary of State from publishing the bill – the final step before it becomes law. In issuing the TRO, the judge noted the need for access to government, giving credence to the complaint that Republicans had violated open meetings laws when they held an executive session of a Conference Committee stripping the budget adjustment bill of fiscal items to avoid the necessity of a quorum in the Senate. You may remember, they met and approved the bill all within a span of a half-hour and with less than two hours of public notice.
Now, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, led by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing the decision. As the courtroom proceedings continue, some say Republicans might also reconsider the budget adjustment bill and approve it with proper public notice.
Question: I’m a state worker impacted by the changes in collective bargaining. When do the increased contributions for health care and pension benefits take effect?
Answer: With the effective date of the budget adjustment legislation undetermined, this is a hard question to answer. However, information from the Employee Trust Fund website suggests that, unless you currently have a contract in place with your employer, the change in your take-home pay will adjust in the first pay period after the bill becomes law. The legislation slightly more than doubles your contribution for health care and requires 5.8% of your salary go toward your retirement fund.
Question: Are state power plants going to be sold off without an open bidding process?
Answer: Governor Walker’s original budget adjustment proposal included a provision to sell some state-owned power plants without an open bidding process. I tried through several amendments on the Assembly floor to remove this item, as I believe strongly the public has a right to know how much their properties were sold for – and if it was the best deal they could’ve gotten.
Ultimately, Senate Republicans were forced to strip the budget adjustment bill of all fiscal items – including the no-bid sale of power plants, to avoid the need for a quorum.
While the Governor’s plan seems on hold for now, last week, the Building Commission approved $9 million worth of renovations and repairs to those same power plants – leading some to question if Republicans may still be planning to sell them off at a later date.
Question: What’s happening with SeniorCare?
Answer: I’m hearing from so many constituents who are deeply troubled over what they’re hearing about SeniorCare – and I want you all to know, I share that concern.
Governor Walker’s proposed budget ends SeniorCare as we now know it, requiring thousands of people to enroll in Medicare Part D, instead. Advocates for the elderly note that most seniors will have to pay more for prescription drugs under Part D than they currently do under SeniorCare to the tune of hundreds of dollars each year.
While these drastic changes are made in the proposed budget - the budget adjustment bill actually gives Governor Walker the ultimate authority to end SeniorCare and other Medicaid programs without full legislative oversight or public input.
Question: How can I learn more about the budget?
A copy of the budget bill, in its entirety, can be found at the Department of Administration’s website: www.doa.wi.gov
. You might also be interested in the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis of the bill, which is expected to be released in coming days on this website: www.legis.wi.gov/lfb
It is also tradition for the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee to hold listening sessions on the bill throughout the state. Last term, seven sessions were held – including one I was proud to help bring to Cambridge. Thus far, the co-chairs have not announced their plans to accept public feedback, but I will keep you posted and encourage you to attend.
Of course, my own normal listening session schedule will continue – and I plan to hold budget-specific hearings in district communities, as well. And, as you know, I welcome your questions and ideas via phone at 888-534-0037 and email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m all ears – and ready to answer your questions, too!