Budget Listening Session Tour Begins in Stevens Point 

By Liz Holbrook, WSAU

STEVENS POINT, WI (WSAU) -- Citizens were invited to talk about the state budget at UW-Stevens Point on Wednesday night.

Several legislators were on hand at UW-Stevens Point for the first of Governor Tony Evers post-budget release listening sessions.

Governor Evers along with Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes spent the hour and a half event listening to groups of constituents discuss six different areas of the budget. Those areas were transportation and infrastructure, healthcare, jobs and taxes, criminal justice reform, education, or the environment and natural resources.

Governor Evers says seeing the groups interact during the listening session was exciting. And an example of democracy in action. "I love the opportunity to be here because people are not only saying this is what we think but they're also challenging each other. They're also agreeing with each other. It was democracy in action and we loved every minute of it."

With the budget committee in session today at the capitol, Governor Evers maintains that despite criticisms the state budget is still the people's budget.

"We want to make sure that our legislators understand how important these issues are to the people of the state. It's not just selecting certain people to come in and tell us what they think. This was open to the public and anybody could have shown up here. I think we're getting a good demographic mix to show exactly what the people in Wisconsin feel."

Some criticism of the budget came from Republican Rep. John Nygren who called the budget irresponsible. When asked about the criticism, Evers says it's easy to criticize the budget when one only stays in Madison.

"It's easy to sit back in your chair behind a big desk grilling people and saying this is irresponsible. That budget that we created came from the people of Wisconsin when we did the listening sessions. It continues to be validated by people."

And Governor Evers says much of the issues present in the people's budget are issues that are important in Central Wisconsin. Which Evers explains is one of the reasons that the listening tour made a stop in Stevens Point.

"We knew it [Central Wisconsin] had a good education background. But also the issues that are Central Wisconsin are issues that are really important to me. Transportation, having a good education system, healthcare, criminal justice. It was great to see groups dividing up and talking about those issues."

Evers also explains the issues talked about in the listening session all have an effect on the quality of life in Wisconsin.

"Whether it's education, whether it's healthcare or transportation. All those issues are important to the quality of life here in Wisconsin. And if we want to address those really thorny issues individually we're going to have to deal with them collectively. These things are connected. If we want to have a good education system we have to have affordable housing. And I think having that conversation is really important for us to grow as a state."

And part of growing as a state according to Evers is having legislators be able to find common ground in the budget.

"We're going to need to find solutions for the people of Wisconsin. And the priorities and the information that we use tonight not only will we use to advocate for our budget. But at the end of the day, we need to find common ground in what they're telling us are really important and making sure that we get to the right place."

With the listening sessions, Evers hopes they will motivate citizens to interact with their legislators and advocate for issues they care about that are in the budget. The Joint Finance Committee began it's work on budget revisions on Wednesday and will continue to do so this week.


(For video coverage, click the link in the article title)