Several significant pieces of the state budget bill were taken up this past week by the Joint Committee on Finance, including long-term care, the University of Wisconsin System, and the Department of Natural Resources.
On long-term care, the Committee formally acted upon its plans that were announced in mid-May, which were to remove the Governor’s proposal from the budget bill. Given the public feedback on the lack of details and input from stakeholders, Senator Harsdorf supported efforts to pull out the proposed changes and to replace them with a proposal that will preserve Family Care and self-directed care while giving those with disabilities a seat at the table in developing potential reforms with the Department of Health Services. Any changes to long-term care programs DHS proposes must receive approval by the Committee, establishing another opportunity for review and input from clients and families served by our state’s long-term care programs.
A motion that Senator Harsdorf co-authored on the University of Wisconsin System was considered by the Committee on Friday, which reduced the funding reduction to the System by $50 million and introduced new flexibilities and accountability measures for our university system. Senator Harsdorf has long supported providing the UW System with the ability to more nimbly and effectively manage its operations and respond to changes in our economy and workforce needs. The motion that was approved by the Committee reduces redundant and unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and encourages innovation at our campuses through reforms such as merit pay. Along with these flexibilities, Harsdorf worked to include a provision that requires the UW System to develop accountability metrics that focus on student outcomes, improved management, and taxpayer value.
Another significant part of the budget taken up on Friday was the Department of Natural Resources, particularly in regards to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Stewardship has been a valuable program that has protected sensitive lands and provided hunting, fishing, and recreation opportunities. Harsdorf voted for a motion to partially restore funding for the Stewardship program recognizing the importance of expanding outdoor opportunities in our area and around the state.
Other action taken by the Committee included:
• Maintaining the Wisconsin-Minnesota Tuition Reciprocity Program in its current form
• Encouraging tourism by ensuring that room tax revenues are focused on tourism promotion and development
• Providing an additional $5 million, in addition to the $3 million previously approved, for repairing or replacing the Little Falls Dam in Willow River State Park
• Increasing penalties for those engaging in fraud under the unemployment insurance program
• Providing an increase in funding for state reimbursement to nursing homes in providing care for our needy elderly