Thank you to everyone who completed my 2015 Spring Survey, whether by mail or electronically! More than 650 responses have poured into my office over the past few weeks. Although I'm still compiling the data and reading the comments you provided, I want to share a few early results with you.
Budget priorities. Of the responses that have been compiled so far, nearly half of respondents expressed a desire to increase funding for K-12 public education above Governor Scott Walker's proposed levels. The legislature has already responded by investing more than $200 million in the 2015-17 budget beyond the Governor's request.
However, even more Sheboygan County respondents identified transportation as a budget priority. Road construction projects cost a little more each year--and I'm still working to repeal Wisconsin's prevailing wage law that artificially inflates labor costs--but transportation revenues are no longer keeping up with the cost to maintain our infrastructure. As a result, the state faces a transportation budget deficit of approximately $6 billion over the next decade. Interestingly, nearly half of my survey respondents favor an increase in the state gas tax to help close the gap; however, there is not yet widespread support for that idea in Madison. Watch for big news within the next week or two as the legislature and Governor Walker seek a compromise to fund our state's highest transportation-related priorities while achieving some sustainability for the future.
Milwaukee Bucks arena. At the time I distributed my survey to you, Governor Walker had proposed spending $220 million in state money toward construction of a stadium whose total costs were still unknown. Almost two-thirds of you agreed in your survey responses that this was too high a price at too high a risk.
Now, a firm plan has been negotiated under terms that appear (from what we know today) much more favorable for Sheboygan County taxpayers. Under the new proposal, the state's contribution would be capped at $4 million per year over 20 years. In contrast, if no new stadium is built and the team leaves Wisconsin, the state will not only lose $6.5 million in annual revenues from players' income taxes (a number that will increase in the future) but will also be stuck with approximately $120 million in required maintenance of the existing Bradley Center to keep it viable for other uses. I have not yet been presented with an actual bill to consider voting on, but at first glance, it seems to make better sense to spend $80 million toward a new stadium than $120 million to keep an old one and lose the team. It's cheaper to keep them!
As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions. Best wishes on your weekend!
Thanks for Visiting!
Students and chaperones from Longfellow Elementary School in Sheboygan (left) and Random Lake Elementary School in Random Lake (right) recently made the long trip to Madison to tour the Capitol. Keep up your hard work; I hope you enjoy your summer vacations!
State Highway 23 Update
I shared the frustrating news in a previous newsletter that the State Highway 23 expansion project between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan (originally scheduled to begin in May 2015) has been delayed yet again, this time due to a federal appeals court ruling on a lawsuit filed by an environmental special interest group.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is working as quickly as possible to provide the court with updated information required by the judge. I remain optimistic that WisDOT's prompt delivery of these updates will restore the federal approval required for the project to begin and enable construction to resume soon. WisDOT Northeast Region Director Will Dorsey told me that, although this latest delay is regrettable, he welcomes the opportunity to further explain to the court and the general public how important the project is for Wisconsin.
In the meantime, beginning on Monday, June 15th, you may see road crews performing surface maintenance on sections of the highway that require immediate repair. Crews will also continue relocating utilities along the highway (which began some time ago) in preparation for the resumption of the expansion project.
Big News from the June 9th, 2015 Assembly Session
No fewer than six bills passed in the Assembly this past Tuesday that will help preserves citizens' Second Amendment rights and stiffen penalties for violent offenders of the firearms laws Wisconsin already has. Perhaps the most significant of these was the Assembly's concurrence in Senate Bill 35, the repeal of the mandatory 48-hour waiting period for purchasing handguns from dealers, which now heads to Governor Walker for signature into law. Click here for the entire story and for my full statement.