Larson Report 
NEWSLETTER

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 A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,
I was lucky enough to be there in person along with all other legislators in a joint session to hear Governor Tony Evers as he laid out his budget priorities for the next two years. 
Before he had gotten very far in his speech, Tony switched it up and put on a video showing footage of neighbors from the statewide listening sessions he had done to get ideas on what to add to the budget. Having those listening sessions and making them open to anyone in the public was a rare and welcome change. To then broadcast the voices of the people who showed up so that the entire legislature could hear them made it clear this was going to be the people's budget. Neighbors talked about the need to decriminalize marijuana, to get more funds for special education, and to invest in our public schools once again. Governor Evers encouraged the legislature to do exactly what neighbors had done across the state: to sit, speak, and listen in a civil way to each other about what is best for the state moving forward. Many on the other side didn't applaud even that. In fact, even later in his speech when Governor Evers announced he was going to adopt many of their ideas in tackling homelessness into his budget, there was still barely a muscle moving on the other side of the aisle.

It is truly stunning and I can only hope that it isn't a sign of coming obstruction for obstruction's sake.

So where do we go from here? Because we do the budget every two years and not everyone is a civics nerd, in this edition of The Larson Report, 

I'll go over a refresher of the process by which the budget is negotiated and passed.

I will also be giving a broad overview of what Governor Evers laid out in his speech and examining what those policies would mean to our friends and neighbors. As the Governor just submitted his budget last week, my staff and I are still digging through the details. Rest assured that as the budget process plays out (and we have more time to fully digest what's in it), we will be giving you deep dives into specific budget areas in future Larson Reports. So stay tuned!

Do you have thoughts on the budget? Any specific areas you'd like me to dig deeper on? Or ideas on where Wisconsin should go as a state? Please do not hesitate to reach out to let me know.

 

In Service, 

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P.S. I'll also note that, as always, we will be doing budget listening sessions throughout the district. Dates and locations will be released shortly.

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Graphic Found at Wisconsin Budget Project

Outlined above is how the normal budget process works in Wisconsin. The whole process takes roughly 9-10 months from the time the agencies make their budget requests in November to the time that the budget is passed and signed into law before July 1st.

Wisconsin has a biennial budget that runs odd-numbered years. For example, the last budget passed was passed by Governor Walker and legislative Republicans and funded the state from June 2017 — June 2019. Another thing to keep in mind about Wisconsin's budget process is that there is no shutdown of the government on the state level should a budget fail to be passed by the July 1st deadline. What happens (in that case) is that the state continues to run at the spending levels that were last approved. This would mean that if the legislature failed to pass a budget by the July 1st deadline, then former Governor Walker's last budget would remain as the operating budget for the state until a new budget is passed and signed.

Not passing a budget still harms our local governments and school districts as they are trying to budget for the future while in financial limbo. Wisconsinites did not vote for a continuation of Scott Walker's last budget.  

Where we are in the budget process right now, is that the various state agencies have made their requests of Governor Evers, Governor Evers has crafted a budget and presented that budget during his Budget Address. The next step in the process is for the presented budget to move over to the state legislature and into the Joint Committee on Finance. 

It is important to make note that this budget will be the first budget with split government (not one party control) in eight years. The four budgets that Governor Walker passed went through this process while his own party controlled both houses of the legislature. It is clear that Governor Evers will not enjoy the same smooth sailing as his predecessor. In fact, Republican leaders have been telegraphing for months that they may break with past practice and tradition to craft their own budget. 

They stated this again the day after Governor Evers delivered his Budget Address. If this continues, it will expose them as being obstructionist. 

The next step in the normal process will be for the Joint Committee on Finance to begin holding public hearings. These public hearings are typically held throughout the state so that our neighbors in all parts of Wisconsin have the opportunity to provide their input. Once that is complete the Joint Committee on Finance will prepare its own version of the budget, which can be drastically different (this seems increasingly likely) than the one authored by the Governor. Typically, this is done by voting to amend and approve various elements of the budget proposed by the Governor. 

However, with legislative Republicans stating their intent to unilaterally reject the Governor's budget, the Joint Committee on Finance may choose to take up a budget written by Republican legislators instead. A move that extreme would subvert the will of the people who elected Tony Evers as Governor of Wisconsin.

After the budget is passed out of the Joint Committee on Finance, it is taken up by the Senate and Assembly. Historically, the houses switch off who gets to take up the budget first. The Assembly one biennium and the Senate the next. During this process, Representatives and Senators have the opportunity to debate the budget, offer amendments, and take a vote on the final passage. If the two houses pass identical bills, then the budget is sent to the Governor. If they do not pass identical bills and there are significant differences, then a Conference Committee is appointed and they settle the differences between the two.

Once the Conference Committee irons out their differences the conference committee budget is sent to the Assembly and the Senate where no amendments or changes can be accepted; just a yes or no vote.

Once a budget is passed it lands on the desk of Governor Tony Evers — back where the whole process started. At this point, Governor Evers has a powerful veto pen that allows him to make line-item vetoes and some strategic adjustments. He can cross out whole items, change dollar values, and delete language to make the budget more accurately reflect his vision.

The legislature would then have the option to override the Governor's veto. That would take a 3/4 vote in both houses of the legislature to accomplish. Currently, the GOP does not control a sufficient amount of seats to pull off a successful veto override without Democratic votes.  

That is the budget process from beginning to end. However, as discussed above this is not a typical year and this budget process will most likely not be passed in a typical fashion. As this process proceeds, we will try and keep you as up to date as possible. I will update my Facebook and Twitter feeds as news becomes available and will also continue to write in-depth articles here as the budget process continues.

Governor Evers First Budget Address — A New Vision for Wisconsin 

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Long before Governor Evers crafted this budget and delivered his address, he went straight to the people and asked for their input. It is admirable that unlike his predecessor, Governor Evers did not require an invitation to attend these meetings and they were open to the public. it is not just a clever turn of phrase, or a rhetorical flourish when Governor Evers calls this the people's budget, it truly is.

Ideas that were brought up at those public listening sessions and are supported by a majority of our friends and neighbors here in Wisconsin, made it into Governor Evers first budget. Republicans owe it to Wisconsin to work from the people's budget and not obstruct Governor Evers. Below are just a few of the priorities outlined by Governor Evers.      

Restoring balance to Public Education: Since 2011 (when Republicans offered their first budget after seizing unilateral control of government) there has been a systematic and purposeful devaluing, defunding, and demonizing of teachers and public education. Nowhere was this more evident than in the $1 billion that was cut from our neighborhood public schools and the reckless expansion of Wisconsin's voucher experiment statewide. This shift ran counter to the way that we here in Wisconsin have historically valued our public schools and the education they provide for our children.

 

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In his first budget address, Governor Evers made the case to restore the balance to our state education system, to fully fund our public schools, and to bring real accountability to private voucher and charter schools. As Governor Evers likes to say, "addressing our states many issues begins with addressing education." 

 I am glad that we finally have a Governor who understands the importance of public education and the impact that investment has on every other facet of our shared community. A secure, fully funded public school system will lead to positive economic and social outcomes down the road. Strong public schools in every part of Wisconsin will lift our communities and make sure that we prosper well into the future.

An investment in our children is an investment in a stronger future. 

I thank Governor Evers for proposing to freeze enrollment in private voucher schools and suspend the expansion of charter schools.

Reinvesting in Higher Education: For far too long our university system has been slashed and starved. Governor Evers would again put Wisconsin on the road to being one of our nation's leaders in higher education. Under his budget, UW institutions would see an increase in funding of $150 million. To help families afford higher education, Governor Evers would maintain the tuition freeze at UW campuses, as well as work to allow students to refinance their student loan debt.

  


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Clean Drinking Water for Wisconsin: Every family in Wisconsin deserves access to pollution-free, reliable drinking water. It is truly refreshing to hear Governor Evers commit to ensuring this basic right in his first State Budget Address. If we enact Governor Evers' budget, 2019 will be the year of clean drinking water.

Governor Evers is committing $70 million in his inaugural budget to ensure that everyone has access to safe, pollution free drinking water. For every $1 we spend on lead abatement we see a 133% return on our investment with higher lifetime earnings and improved health outcomes. 

Whether it is contaminated private wells or lead abatement in our homes and schools, our friends and neighbors deserve the security of knowing that the water coming out of their faucets and bubblers is safe to drink.

Last session we were able to take a small bipartisan step forward on this issue, now Republicans should come to the table with Democrats and work together to fix the threats to Wisconsin’s drinking water. The risk of contaminated water is both an urban and rural hazard and the people of Wisconsin deserve a solution.

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Reinvesting in Women's Health: Governor Evers is recommitting Wisconsin to comprehensive healthcare for women and children. The $28 million Governor Evers wants to invest in the "Healthy Women, Healthy Babies" budget plan would create an Infant Mortality Prevention Program, expand postpartum coverage for mothers insured under Medicaid, increase grant funding aimed at reducing health disparities, and expand funding for programs and grants that provide cancer screenings and STI testing.

I am especially excited that Governor Evers is once again making Planned Parenthood eligible to receive Woman’s Health Block Grant funds and federal Title V funds. For many of our neighbors, Planned Parenthood is their primary healthcare provider and these healthcare facilities provide women with lifesaving screening and preventative services. Defunding these facilities served only partisan dogma and the reduction of services and quality healthcare for our friends and family.

In broad strokes, we have covered some of the proposals in Governor Evers' budget; however, there will be much more to unpack as the weeks go on. As the process moves forward, I will be sure to include in-depth updates on the budget in future Larson Reports.  

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Governor Evers wrote a bold state budget that envisions a renewal for Wisconsin and reflects the work and will of the people from across Wisconsin. Legislative Republicans owe it to their constituents to negotiate in good faith with Governor Evers and work within the framework of that budget.

Even before the full budget was released, Republicans were openly talking about scrapping it and writing their own budget, ignoring what the people voted for, and turning their backs on their Wisconsin friends and neighbors. This should not be. The people voted for a new direction, not more partisan games and one-upmanship.

Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472 and ask for your state representatives, tell them you want them to work within the framework of Governor Evers' budget.    

 

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The Larson Report strives to provide up-to-date, in-depth information to you. Between editions, a lot happens in Madison and around the country. I want to make sure you know the most pressing issues facing our neighbors and friends across the nation. Below are some of the top stories from the past couple of weeks. 

Governor Evers Pulls back Wisconsin National Guard From Border

Governor Evers took the bold step of no longer having Wisconsin’s brave service members of the National Guard being used in President Trump’s political games.

We all recognize that there is no national emergency at our southern border. Thank you, Governor Evers, for understanding the burden this political posturing was placing on our service members personal lives. His action allowed them to come back home to their families and careers.

Hopefully, this action puts an end to Republican politicians using our neighbors who serve in the military as political props. Immigration reform and the lives that it impacts is not a game.   

President Trump's Former Fixer Testifies in front of Congress

In damning testimony, The President's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen said of the President: “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.” 

Michael Cohen's testimony was gripping and painted a deeply unflattering picture and possible criminality of President Trump. Among many other damning revelations, Cohen detailed hush-money payments made by President Trump to keep alleged affairs quiet during the campaign. 

Michael Cohen also suggested that President Trump never wanted to win the presidency and cynically viewed his campaign as "the greatest infomercial in political history."   

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