State budget should work for citizens, not special interests

Column by Rep. Katrina Shankland, Assistant Assembly Democratic Leader

Published in The Capital Times

I’ve spent over 40 hours in listening sessions about the devastating Republican budget, and I’ve heard heart-wrenching stories that keep me up at night. An 80-year old man sobbed on my shoulder about the drastic changes to long-term care programs and aging and disability resource centers. A young couple who work at the university and have small children whispered fearfully to me about losing their jobs and their house. I’ve been doing a lot more listening than talking on the budget, and everyone I’ve heard from is worried about how this budget will impact their livelihood and their community.
Gov. Walker has introduced a job-killing budget that guts our most valuable priorities: our neighborhood public schools, universities, state parks, public radio and television, natural resources programs, SeniorCare, and long-term care programs like IRIS and Family Care. Dozens of people have already lost their jobs at the DNR and universities because of the budget — and many more will lose their family-supporting employment if the Republican budget passes.
In Stevens Point, 115 jobs at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will be gone and 25 percent of our state funding gutted, the largest cut to any university in the state. We’ll see 430 jobs at Community Care Connections of Wisconsin vanish. GeminiCares left the state, laying off 92 workers in Stevens Point and 700 statewide due to the massive changes in the long-term care budget. Our public schools will have harsh cuts to make, including $1.2 million slashed from the Stevens Point Area School District. These cuts aren’t necessary.
This isn’t Walker’s first time at the rodeo. This is his third budget, and with every budget, he has increased spending. That money just isn’t going to the programs that the people of Wisconsin care about the most.
While Republicans made the largest cut to public education in our state’s history, they have also funneled millions of public dollars to private, unaccountable voucher schools.
While Republicans refuse to accept federal funding for BadgerCare, they are spending more money to cover fewer people. We could save $345 million in two years and cover 80,000 more people if we brought our federal tax dollars home to Wisconsin. With these savings, we could invest in our communities and fund our strongest priorities in a fiscally responsible way.
We need to ask ourselves why the governor can afford to travel to Europe and spend $138,000 on our dime, but can’t fund our schools or natural resources. We’ve got a problem when companies like Eaton outsource jobs to Mexico for the second time in three years, and still receive taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, but people who work three jobs can’t afford their prescriptions or rent. Republicans haven’t just given away the farm: Their budget salts the earth and leaves us asking where to plant the seeds.
There’s a reason why Walker’s approval ratings are the lowest they’ve ever been. Wisconsin is last in the nation for the middle class and 40th in the nation in job growth. Walker is on pace to have the highest number of layoffs under his watch since 2011. The Republican budget doesn’t help working families get ahead, and it doesn’t help Wisconsin’s hard workers keep their jobs.
The people of Wisconsin are calling on their legislators to do the right thing and represent working families in this budget, not special interests. I’m committed to a budget that works for everyone, and I will fight for you every day until we get there.
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, represents the 71st Assembly District in Portage County and serves as the assistant Assembly Democratic leader.