The Larson Report

Progressive Perspectives from State Senator Chris Larson


Dear neighbor,


I hope you are enjoying the beautiful weather so far this summer, and have fun plans to celebrate the Fourth of July. If you are in town, I encourage you to join me at the St.Francis or Cudahy Fourth of July parades. Last fall, I began a four-part series of Larson Report’s called “Democracy in Distress.” I promise to finish this series in my next Larson report, but for right now I would like to turn your attention toward something urgent: the state budget.

In case you missed it, Governor Evers introduced a $91 billion “Bounceback” state budget back in February. While the Governor’s proposed budget was already a compromise step in the right direction, the Republican-controlled Committee on Joint Finance voted to drag us two steps back. The biggest way the updated budget fails Wisconsin is in the continued blatant attack on public education: Republicans cut the Governor’s proposed $612.8 million increase in K-12 education funding to a mere $128 million but the way they did it makes it so, so much worse.

Some history. In March, Congress enacted the federal coronavirus relief bill, providing $2.3 billion in aid for K-12 schools. To qualify for the aid, states are required to increase education funding by at least $387 million over the next two years. Republicans' cut to $128 million did not meet this federal threshold, putting the $2.3 billion in aid in jeopardy. After over a month of stalling, the GOP-controlled Joint Committee on Finance devised a scheme to make up those dollars through a tax loophole that still might not meet federal maintenance of effort requirements. The Republicans are attempting to fool the federal government by allocating $408 million into the general school fund while capping local revenue limits. In other words, our schools will not actually see any of these funds; rather, wealthy property owners will see them through an insignificant property tax decrease.

Receiving a quality education is a founding principle in our constitution, and for Republicans to deny our children that right is despicable. According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Wisconsin is ranked 49th in the nation for per-pupil education investment increases from 2011-2018. If we continue to underfund education, we will begin to lose more of our teachers, and without our teachers, our education system perishes. With a $4.4 billion projected surplus and a pending $2.3 billion in federal aid, Wisconsin has a golden opportunity to make our school districts whole again after their massive investments in PPE, virtual learning equipment, and building upgrades. The fact that Republicans would starve our public schools of the proper funding, despite there being more money available than ever before, confirms that they do not care about our children's education. If we are going to build back better from this pandemic, it needs to start with providing our children with the resources to achieve a quality education.

We must make significant investments in our K-12 schools, and restore our historic two-thirds funding commitment for schools. Investing $709 million in special education would increase reimbursements of local taxpayer costs to 50%, and increasing general aid by $600 million over the biennium would ensure our schools a swift recovery.

To put it simply: after an incredibly tough year for everyone and after a decade of historic cuts, the state has the resources to fund our kids’ education, and yet they are still refusing to do it. This will affect all 421 school districts, make it harder to retain teachers, and violates the legacy of quality public education Wisconsin prides itself on.

But wait...there’s more

Education isn’t the only shared priority the Republican budget fails to adequately address. The current draft of the budget also ignores climate change as an imminent threat to our environment by refusing to establish environmental agencies and fund local risk assessments that consider the risk of climate change. Wisconsin has long been a leader in conservation and protecting our natural environment, and it is a shame to see us continue to stray from that history. While Governor Evers and Legislative Democrats recognize the cruel effects of climate change, Republicans refuse, and it shows. Establishing an Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy and an Office of Environmental Justice are two major items that would have served as an investment toward a clean, sustainable future. The GOP-led committee even disagreed with Instituting standards for forever chemicals like PFAS.

Republicans also refused to expand programs like Badgercare and Medicaid, denying our neighbors affordable healthcare and our state $1.7 billion in incentives. It is just fiscally irresponsible to not expand Medicaid.



BadgerCare provides affordable healthcare for more than 90,000 hardworking Wisconsinites who are still under 133% of the poverty line. The fact that Republicans would choose to neglect this many of our neighbors is abominable.

 

The Big Lie Saga

The Big Lie continues to run rampant in Republicans’ minds, as evident by their refusal to give our communities a say in how district maps get drawn. In his budget, the Governor proposed that the legislature consider the People’s Maps in the next round of redistricting. The People’s Maps Commission allows Wisconsin locals to submit maps that reflect how they want their district to be represented. Republicans have chosen to take that right away from the people and allow their heavily gerrymandered districts to continue determining the outcome of elections.


As Abraham Lincoln once proclaimed in his famous Gettysburg Address, “...this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That powerful statement can only hold true when we allow our neighbors to fully participate in our democracy. No one knows a community better than its own neighbors, which is why I encourage you to submit your own redistricting plan on the People’s Maps Commission website.


An Honest Day’s Work for an Honest Day’s Pay

Wisconsinites cannot continue to live on a minimum wage that has not increased since 2009. One in four Wisconsin workers have poverty-wage jobs. No one working 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty. Period. Governor Evers proposed creating a task force to raise the minimum wage to $15, but Republicans shot it down. The GOP even stripped our workers of the Governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to a modest $10.15 by 2024. Wisconsin workers deserve fair compensation for their essential work. We haven’t seen an increase in the minimum wage since 2009 and Gov. Evers’ proposal is a step toward the needed $15 minimum wage our neighbors deserve. I am proud to stand with my Democratic colleagues on a bill that would raise Wisconsin’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate the tipped employee exemption. 

More money goes for those with more money. Again.

Republicans voted to reduce Wisconsin’s third tax bracket from 6.27 percent to 5.3 percent, which applies to individuals who make between $23,930 and $263,480. While their tax cuts may sound nice in theory, the math shows that these tax cuts are geared toward the wealthy. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that about 74% of the income tax cut would go toward individuals with an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or more. LFB also found that an individual making between $40,000 and $50,000 would save an average of $115 in the tax year 2022, while someone making between $125,000 and $150,000 would see $999 in savings. There would be little to no tax relief for individuals making less than $24,000. This is grossly inequitable. If Republicans really wanted to help out taxpayers, they would eliminate the lowest bracket. Mild tax cuts take away from the overall community. $115 doesn’t do much for the average family, but it would do a lot more for low-income families.

It’s high time we legalize marijuana.

Yet another way Republicans proved their ignorance in the proposed budget, is by refusing to authorize the legalization of marijuana. Legalizing marijuana would raise up to $165 million annually by fiscal year 2023. This revenue would have been put toward rural schools and underserved communities, yet Republicans deny us of that opportunity. They falsely claim that we do not have the support to legalize marijuana, yet 59 percent of voters say marijuana use should be legal. Wisconsin is losing out on so much revenue and tourism just from the sheer number of residents who cross into Illinois to purchase Marijuana products. Not only would marijuana legalization bring unprecedented revenue into the state, but it would also promote racial equity and criminal justice. In 2018, 57% of Wisconsin’s drug arrests were for marijuana possession, and in 2019 there were 187 citations for possession just in Milwaukee County. These are ridiculous numbers for a substance that is legal less than an hour away. We ended the prohibition of alcohol in 1933. It’s time we end it for marijuana.

So What Happens Next?

The GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee submitted its budget proposal on June 17, 2021. This coming Tuesday and Wednesday, the budget will move to both the Assembly and the Senate, where they can make any changes to the proposed budget. If the Assembly and the Senate cannot agree and each passes a different version of the budget, it gets sent to a Conference Committee made up of members from each house. In this instance, the Conference Committee puts together a compromised budget, the compromised budget gets sent back to the Assembly and Senate for approval, and once approved, it gets sent to Governor Evers. At that point, Evers can make line-item vetoes by removing certain language in the budget he does not like, or he can veto the entire budget. If the Governor vetoes the entire budget, the legislature reverts back to last year’s budget until a new version is passed. The legislature may override these vetoes, but only with a two-thirds majority in each house. If no vetoes are overridden, then the budget finally gets signed into law.

“What can I do?”

As the budget advances to the Legislature, it’s more important than ever that you make your voice heard. If you believe that Wisconsin’s 2021-2023 biennial budget should reflect the needs of our neighbors, not the wishes of the wealthy, here are some things you can do:

  1. Contact your representative and senator and let them know you oppose the proposed budget. If you don’t know who your rep is or how to contact them, just type your address in the top-right of the following website: https://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/

  2. Ask your representative and senator to allocate adequate funding toward the programs that make our neighborhood a better place to live, such as quality education, affordable healthcare, and fair pay.

  3. Thank Governor Evers for proposing a budget that will help us bounce back better than before the pandemic. If there are significant changes, I will be calling on the Governor to veto this budget, and encourage you to urge him to veto the Republicans’ proposed budget as well. You can contact the Governor here: https://evers.wi.gov/Pages/Connect.aspx

  4. Forward this message on to a friend in another part of Wisconsin. The more pressure that is put on legislators to restore balance, the better chance we have.

Up Next: My Voters, by Choice

The U.S.Census Bureau is expected to release its 2020 census data used to draw our legislative maps for the next 10 years, this September. This information is vital for establishing equitable, representative maps for the people. On June 23, Republicans pushed through a bill that would allow them to continue using gerrymandered maps for another election cycle. The Governor is likely to veto this bill, but that doesn’t mean Republicans will stop their corrupt efforts. We must continue to fight for fair maps that represent the will of the people, not the party in power.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and become informed on the state budget. It is an honor to serve you in the state Senate, and I promise to keep fighting for the budget our neighbors deserve.

 

In service,

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 MADISON OFFICE: 20 South, State Capitol
PHONE: (608) 266-7505
FAX: (608) 282-3547
EMAIL: Sen.Larson@legis.wisconsin.gov
U.S. MAIL: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882
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