Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

February 3, 2023

Listening Session Summary

I just completed a series of eight listening sessions in the 17th Senate District – one in each county I represent. I held the sessions in Mauston, Reedsburg, Richland Center, Lancaster, Sylvester, Darlington, Cobb and Hillsboro.  I was joined by Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City), Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) and Rep. Todd Novak (Dodgeville). We heard from more than 270 people who shared a wide array of opinions, input and ideas.
Each session had its own flavor. We heard a wide-range of topics that were often extremely regional. For example, in Lancaster, Darlington and Cobb, I heard a lot about the proposed wind farm and shared revenue. In Richland Center, the conversation was dominated by the UW System’s decision to step away from UW Platteville – Richland. In Mauston and Reedsburg we mostly heard about broadband, the state surplus and ideas for the state budget. In Sylvester, we heard about a lot of different ideas including property taxes, veterans programs and rural EMS. In Hillsboro, I heard about more than a dozen different topics including trout stamps, school funding, local roads and housing.
First and foremost, I would like to thank everyone who attended and spoke at each session. I know it is an investment of your time and some of you overcame fears of public speaking to share your input with us. Everything we hear at a listening session matters. Every comment, idea, criticism and question is important. It helps us, as legislators, to know what is on your mind as we consider policy and spending decisions that will impact your daily life.
While we may not always agree, I want you to know that I want to hear from you. I cannot do this job without your input and ideas. The best legislation comes from the people who are living, working, volunteering and leading in our communities. You know what is necessary to move Wisconsin forward.
Following is a brief recap of some of the topics covered at our listening sessions. If you were unable to join us, please send me an email or call my team to share your input. I want to hear from you.
Wind Farms: Attendees were opposed to wind farms and current wind turbine siting regulations. They asked for legislation to revamp wind (and solar) siting so that local residents and communities have a role in determining wind farm siting. They also asked that the Wind Siting Council be held accountable to take action. Many speakers were concerned about adverse health effects, property values and destruction of quality of life for the people who live in our communities.
UW Platteville – Richland: Attendees were opposed to the UW System’s decision to end in-person instruction at the UW Platteville – Richland campus later this year. Like me, they were blind-sided by the decision to close the campus and they want answers. More than 100 people attended the Richland Center listening session to share their concerns. This session was followed by a community forum that I attended on January 26, 2023.
Shared Revenue: Many local municipal and county leaders shared their concerns about the broken shared revenue formula. They told us that rising and inflationary costs have created impossible obstacles for local governments without a change for shared revenue calculations. They also said that while it might sound nice to pour more money into the program – it isn’t helpful to simply add to a broken formula. We need to find a new way to share costs with local governments.
State Surplus: Attendees gave us a lot of ideas for ways to spend the state surplus. Everything from roads to schools to tax cuts. I shared my concern that while the projected surplus is around $7 billion, a lot of these funds are one-time dollars. The real, ongoing surplus is approximately $3 billion. We must be careful to prevent spending ourselves into holes.
Property Taxes: Attendees shared concerns about property tax increases and school referenda. They were worried about the impact of increasing property taxes on older residents who live on fixed incomes.
Funding for Schools: Attendees asked us to send more funding to our schools. They cited increasing costs for staff and operations that are forcing districts to go to referendum.
Abortion: Attendees shared views on both sides of the issue. We heard from both pro-life and pro-choice advocates.
Broadband Expansion: Attendees told us about both successful broadband expansion grant projects and the communities that still do not have service. The unserved communities continue to fight for expansion and seek assistance to bring broadband to their residents.
Again, I sincerely appreciate the time and effort of every attendee who joined us for a listening session. Thank you to everyone who took time out of their day to join us – and to listen to their neighbors. If you were unable to participate in a listening session, but have ideas or concerns, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703. I want to hear from you.