June 25, 2021

  

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JFC Budget Ready for Assembly Vote

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has recently finished their work on revising the Governor's 2021-23 budget proposal, and the amended budget is heading for an Assembly vote this coming Tuesday, June 29th. With each state budget, the version introduced by the Governor always looks different than what's voted on in the legislature, which is actually a good thing. Even under Governor Walker with a Republican legislative majority, changes were made to his proposal. The changes made through the legislature's review of the budget are a way for Wisconsinites to have their priorities reflected in the spending plan.

The JFC received an unrealistic budget proposal from Governor Evers, which would have raised taxes by $1 billion, increased spending by more than $8 billion over the biennium, and included many divisive policy items that weren't funding-related. That's why JFC voted to work off of the budget that was passed last year and build a budget that more accurately reflects the priorities of Wisconsinites in a responsible and realistic manner. Some of the most notable measures included in the JFC's budget include:

  • Reduced bureaucracy by eliminating a number of full-time government positions that were either unfilled or exceeded the need of the agency
  • $10 million to help Veteran Nursing Homes in the event of a pandemic or natural disaster
  • $100,000 to fund suicide prevention activities for veterans
  • Increased grant limit to $175,000 per organization for veteran service organizations
  • Provided $76,200 more per year to county veterans service offices, double what Governor Evers' proposed
  • Tripled the Housing Assistance Program by increasing it $600,000 annually to facilitate moving homeless individuals to independent living situations
  • Removed the cap and fully funded the Length of Service Awards for volunteer firefighters, first responders and volunteer EMTs
  • Approved nearly $2 billion in K-12 education funding, with nearly $500 million in new state funding
  • Guaranteed a minimum of $781 in aid per pupil for schools that were in person more than 50% last school year
  • Increased Special Education Categorical Aids by $86 million and reimbursement for high cost special education by $4 million
  • Increased sparsity aid by $6.2 million to create a second tier for membership between 745 and 1,000 pupils with density of 10 pupils per square mile
  • Increased high cost transportation aid reimbursements to districts with transportation costs over 140% of the statewide average and with less than 3,500 students
  • Reduces borrowing for road projects while investing more than the Governor's proposal did in local roads and the State Highway Rehabilitation Program
  • Added an additional $100,000 per year for Sexual Assault Victim Services grant program
  • Investing $400,000 in Windows to Work to help get inmates a job and reduce repeat offenses
  • Invested in water quality programs, including ones recommended by the Task Force on Water Quality
  • Reauthorized the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program for 4 years at $32 million annually while decreasing bonding used by 1/3

Since the budget in statute form is quite long with a lot of legal jargon, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) condenses it into summaries that are much easier to interpret and search through. While the full list of budget documents from LFB can be found here, one that the legislature uses quite frequently is the Comparative Summary of Budget Recommendations, an 826 page document which compares the Governor's initial proposal with the JFC's version of the budget. Along with showing the funding breakdown, it also gives some helpful details about the budget items and explains any changes being made. For those who don't have the time to search the full document, LFB has also compiled an agency-by-agency version as well as a 31 page condensed summary.

Budget Survey Reminder

With the Assembly vote coming up on Tuesday for the budget, if you haven't sent in your paper survey yet, I'd encourage you to get it in the mail as soon as possible. So far, I've received over 600 survey responses from around the 36th Assembly District, and my staff continue to receive more daily. If you haven't mailed in your survey yet but want to make sure it gets to me before the Assembly vote, you may wish to fill it out online this weekend:

36th Assembly District Online Budget Survey

JEM Grants Awarded 

To help support and boost local tourism, the Department of Tourism regularly awards Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) grants around the state to help area Chambers of Commerce promote their events and attract more visitors to the region. 

This week, the following JEM grants were awarded in our area:

Northern Wisconsin ATV/UTV Traveler Development Project - $38,000

  • This project is a collaboration of the Chambers of Commerce in Langlade, Forest, Lincoln, and Oneida Counties.

Rhinelander Area Destination Branding Campaign - $39,550

  • This grant is awarded to the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce.

#welovethenorthwoods Northwoods of Wisconsin COVID-19 Regional Marketing Campaign - $39,550

  • This project is a collaboration of the Chambers of Commerce in Forest, Iron, Lincoln, Langlade, Oneida, and Price Counties.

While I wasn't able to attend the grant presentations because of the Assembly floor vote that day, I'm pleased to see these funds going to support tourism efforts in the Northwoods. Congratulations!

Question of the Week:
$15 Minimum Wage

A new bill was introduced by Rep. Subeck (D) this month that seeks to address Wisconsin's minimum wage by raising it from $7.25/hr to $15/hr and allow municipalities to create local minimum wage ordinances. 

The concept of a minimum wage was first created in 1938 under the Fair Labor Standards Act to stabilize the post-depression economy and protect the workers in the labor force. It was designed to create a minimum standard of living to protect the health and well-being of the employees. (More about it's history can be found here.) The federal minimum wage was last increased to the current $7.25/hr back in 2009. 

In the bill's summary, Rep. Subeck states that because the cost of living has continued to rise since 2009, "at $7.25 per hour no individual or family can realistically afford housing & childcare costs, let alone the additional staggering living costs of healthcare, food, transportation, and more." To address that, her bill would do the following: 

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour after a 1-year transition period
  • Index the minimum wage to inflation
  • Repeal the law prohibiting municipalities from enacting local minimum wage ordinances
  • Eliminate tip-credit wages for employees

However, opponents of the bill are concerned that it would lead to increased costs across the board for consumers and businesses alike, which could be particularly damaging for those who can afford increased costs the least. In addition, some economists believe that while the increase would raise wages for some workers, it would also result in layoffs for others, with the lowest paid workers suffering the most consequences. And with businesses likely to cut the amount of entry level jobs available, it would mean fewer people would have access to these stepping-stone employment opportunities. 

Coming out of the COVID-19 economic slump, the idea of raising the minimum wage has been a popular topic of discussion, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this proposed bill. Please take a moment to answer my question of the week:

Click here for my Question of the Week

Last Week's Results: 
Allow Certain 17 Year Olds to Vote

I've heard from many people around the 36th Assembly District in response to last week's question. The chart below represents the responses from constituents to the question as of Friday morning. 

Meet My Office Staff

If you've called or visited my office in the last few years, you've probably talked with or met at least one of my staff members. However, I realized I never officially introduced them, so I think it's about time for an office photo and introduction. 

Cory, on the left, is my Chief of Staff, and she is one of the most experienced staff members in the building. She's been working in the State Capitol as a legislative staffer for 22 years and I've been lucky to have her as a part of my team since 2015. Because I am the Committee Chair for the Assembly Committee on Forestry, Parks & Outdoor Recreation, she also serves as the committee clerk, coordinating committee meetings, hearings and more. Cory works closely with me during the bill research, drafting and committee process to help make sure my bills make it to the Governor's desk. She's also regularly worked with constituents to bring their bill ideas to life. Her wealth of experience and knowledge on the legislative process has been invaluable to me in the Legislature. 

Alison, on the right, is my Legislative Assistant and has been in the building for almost 5 years now. If you've called my office, odds are you've probably spoken to her at some point. Alison compiles and organizes any contacts I receive, sends out my responses, manages my calendar, and helps make sure my documents and reference materials are ready for Committee meetings or floor votes. She also works with folks who call in looking for help resolving a state agency issue, and notably handled all the Unemployment Inquires in the height of the pandemic. In addition, she prepares each weekly e-update, question of the week, and has been very helpful in getting my budget survey sent out and the results tallied. 

Upcoming Construction in Oconto County 

I recently heard from my DOT contact about a major road construction project coming up next week in Oconto County. Construction will begin on WIS 32 and WISC 22 in the city of Gillett to Trinity Church Road in the town of Maple Valley. The project begins on Monday, June 28 and expected to finish in early August, and while WIS 32 will remain open during construction, there will be lane closures, flagging operations, and short durations where side street and driveway access is restricted temporarily. 

For more information on this project, or updates on other area projects, be sure to check out the Northeast Region Weekly Highway Construction Update or follow them on Twitter @WisDOTnortheast.

Follow the Legislative Action

In order to stay up to date on any legislation, proposals, or your legislator, a free notification service is available through the Wisconsin State Legislature's website. You can sign up for nightly personalized email notifications based on our state's legislative activity. This is a wonderful way to stay informed about state politics and proposals that you are interested in.