As 2011 comes to a close, this is a time to look back at what happened in the Wisconsin State Legislature during the past year.
Here are the top 10 significant actions taken by the Legislature in 2011 as I saw it:
Budget Balanced: The budget bill addressed the $3.6 billion budget shortfall by reducing borrowing and tightening the belt on state spending with across the board reductions. The budget also eliminated our structural budget deficit for the first time in over a decade.
SeniorCare Protected: The SeniorCare program was unchanged in the state budget, and funding for the SeniorCare program was increased by $6.8 million in 2011-12 and by $3.3 million in 2012-13 to ensure that the program is fully funded.
Renegotiation of Income Tax Reciprocity: The State Legislature provided funding for Wisconsin to make the outstanding reciprocity payment of nearly $60 million to Minnesota, allowing the two states to negotiate the reinstatement of income tax reciprocity. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue is working to renegotiate a reciprocity agreement with Minnesota.
Property Tax Freeze: The budget bill included a two-year property tax freeze and for the first time placed permanent limits on property tax increases.
Special Session Job Focus: Jobs are a top priority as we work to reverse the effects of the economic downturn. The State Legislature held two special sessions focused on addressing concerns raised by job creators as we seek to improve Wisconsin's business climate.
Concealed Carry Passed: State law was changed to allow for the carrying of concealed firearms, bringing Wisconsin in line with 48 other states that allow conceal carry for their citizens.
No Tax Increases: The budget was balanced without raising taxes and, according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, reduced taxes by $24 million. The budget bill seeks to begin bringing government spending in line with what taxpayers can afford.
St. Croix River Crossing: Legislation was signed into law, which removed from statutes an obstacle for the funding of a new bridge, and allows the Wisconsin DOT to secure funding for Wisconsin's share for replacing the St. Croix River Crossing. Congressional members from both states are working on legislation to obtain the necessary federal approval.
Rolling Back Costly Mandates: The State Legislature approved several bills that repealed mandates passed last session that increased costs on citizens, local governments, and taxpayers. One such example is the repeal of changes to car insurance coverage that led to an increase in premiums on policy holders. Also passed was legislation that eliminated the DNR mandate that would require mandatory chlorination of all municipal water supplies, which would have resulted in significant costs to property taxpayers and local governments when no problem existed.
What should the State Legislature be focused on for 2012? Visit my website, www.harsdorfsenate.com to offer your comments, read blogs, or participate in online surveys. You can also call me toll free from Wisconsin at 1-800-862-1092.