July 10, 2019

A Budget Built for Northeast Wisconsin

As the new fiscal biennium began on July 1st, the Legislature passed 2019 Assembly Bill 56, the 2019-2021 Biennial State Budget, near the end of June and the Governor signed it into law, largely in-tact, the following week. I voted in-favor of this budget. While not perfect, I believe this budget is better than the proposed budget earlier this year, and overall, this is a good budget for Northeast Wisconsin.

The 2019-2021 Biennial Budget is designed to set out the state’s priorities over the next two years. In this budget, we prioritized our state’s fiscal health and protecting taxpayers while still making necessary and substantial investments in vital state services like transportation infrastructure, K-12 education, the justice and corrections systems, and our healthcare needs.

Despite some initial concerns I had with the levels of spending in this budget, Republicans provided a balanced budget with a structural deficit that is $500 million less than the Governor proposed. Additionally, this budget has one of the lowest amounts of nonfiscal policy in decades.

In Northeast Wisconsin, we’ll see a number of infrastructure projects important for continuing our region’s growth and prosperity progress with the budget’s enactment. This includes the planning stages of the I-41 expansion and the necessary funding in the State Highway Program to advance the Hwy-15 expansion and bypass.

Those are just two regional examples of transportation projects that will progress thanks to this budget, but all Wisconsinites will benefit from our state’s commitment to local transportation infrastructure. Focusing on fixing the roads closest to home, a 10% increase in transportation aids to communities will help to fix more main streets and neighborhood streets.

While the Joint Finance Committee did increase registration and title fees in the transportation budget to help address short-term and long-term needs, the Republican budget offset these fee increases with a more than $500 million income tax cut to help keep more of your money in your pocket.

After a smoother drive in the bus or their parent’s car in the morning, youth throughout the state will see the results of an over $500 million increase to K-12 education funding. This investment not only includes an additional $604 per student over the next two years, but also boosts special education aid, rural sparsity aid, and mental health assistance for Wisconsin students.

Focusing on improving our criminal justice system, the 2019-2021 State Budget provides an additional sixty Assistant District Attorneys (ADA) positions to help clear-up case backlogs and provide justice for more Northeast Wisconsinites. Moreover, a pay raise for ADAs and Public Defenders (PD) and a rate increase for private bar attorneys taking PD cases will help to make the justice process smoother.

Looking further into the criminal justice system, an increase in funding for the very-successful Treatment and Diversion programs will continue our state’s prioritization of rehabilitation for non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system as opposed to the more expensive option of incarceration. Finally, a well-deserved pay raise for correctional officers will help to reward our dedicated employees and attract new correctional officers while helping to reduce the highly burdensome expense of excessive overtime in understaffed correctional institutions.

While Wisconsin was able to make improvements to our criminal justice system, the Governor left an opportunity on the table when he vetoed the planning and land purchase stages of a replacement for the maximum security over 100 year-old Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI). Given the severe overcrowding, maintenance backlog, and security concerns at GBCI, a new facility is in the best interest of our corrections’ staff, incarcerated individuals, and the region.

The state will also be helping to further advance water quality in our state and provide more regulatory certainty to agricultural community thanks to an additional four permitting positions in the wastewater permitting program. These positions will help to further address Audit Report 16-6 which showed unreasonable permit backlogs in the Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

The Legislature made real investments in Wisconsin’s vulnerable populations without expanding government assistance programs in the 2019-2021 State Budget. By focusing on increasing the Medical Assistance reimbursement rates, rewarding our long-term care employees, increasing youth mental health services, and keeping nursing homes and elderly care accessible and affordable, Wisconsin will continue to shine as a top state for health care.

Finally, this budget continues our state’s partnership with the eleven tribal nations in our borders. Tribal gaming tax revenue will be used as a result of this budget to establish a new Stockbridge-Munsee Youth Wellness Center and reestablish a partnership between the Oneida Nation and UW-Green Bay to fund for first nation’s programming at the University.

The Republican Legislature was able to prioritize all of these services while still providing a balanced budget and putting money back in the pockets of taxpayers. In short, I was proud to vote for the accountable and responsible budget, and look forward to seeing the dividends this budget will pay over the next two years.