by Senator Howard Marklein
August 7, 2020
Session Recap: The State Budget
One of the most important periods of the legislative session is the state budget process. As a member of the legislature’s budget writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC), I have a front-seat view and a primary role in this process.
As I summarize and recap the 2019-20 legislative session, it is important to review my work for you during the state budget process. Over the next several weeks, I will also focus on specific topics such as agriculture, rural issues, education, health care, tax reform and transportation. It is my hope that these columns will provide a positive recap of my work for you. It will also help me to draft priorities and plans for the next legislative session, which begins in January 2021.
The legislature’s version of the state budget invested in the people of Wisconsin and the needs of our communities while protecting taxpayers. It was especially helpful for rural Wisconsin and I worked hard to make sure the rural voice was heard in this discussion. Rural Wisconsin matters.
Our budget funded your priorities. We put a lot of money into the things you told us to fund – roads, healthcare, education and more. We did not cut anything.
Unfortunately, Governor Tony Evers vetoed several key pieces of our budget, especially my plan to fund rural roads. As you may recall, I worked very hard to designate funds in the state budget for local, rural roads. I originally sought $133 million ($1 million per county; $1,000 per town mile). This was then compromised to $90 million to be divided among towns, counties, cities and villages for local road maintenance and repairs. This is the package the legislature passed in our state budget.
Governor Tony Evers vetoed $15 million off of these dollars and further vetoed all of the language that directed the funding to local roads. Fortunately, the DOT somewhat heard our pleas and approved a plan that mostly restored our original intent for the remaining $75 million in funding. Unfortunately, they opened up eligibility for these funds and offered them for other types of projects including bike paths, harbors, railroads, buses and pedestrian walkways. I wanted ALL of the funding to go toward road maintenance, repair and construction, with an emphasis on local, RURAL roads. It did not.
I still firmly believe that if we are going to fix our roads and solve our major transportation challenges statewide, we should be distributing a uniform, infusion of funding to counties, towns, cities and villages in a noncompetitive way. My original proposal, a year ago, was to give every county an additional, one-time infusion of $1 million and every town an additional $1,000 per mile of town road. If I re-wrote this plan today, I would also give every city and village an additional $1,000 per mile of city or village roadway.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ruled that the Governor’s veto was unconstitutional. We are still trying to figure out what that means and how it will be applied. Stay tuned.
Again, the Legislature’s budget invested in you, your needs and the needs of your neighbors. We heard you. We responded. We invested.
The following summary that reflects the highlights I believe are most important to the people of the 17th Senate District. I have indicated the provisions that were vetoed by the Governor. Read on:
Transportation - Nearly $1 billion investment in roads by 2021.
- $156 million more for local roads with $90 million in one-time funding for the Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP) and investments in General Transportation Aids (GTAs). PARTIALLY VETOED.
- $320 million more for State Highway Rehabilitation.
- Raised Vehicle Registration Fee by $10 and Title Fee by $95 rather than increasing the gas tax because they are sustainable and reasonable ways to increase revenue while we make reforms to the way the Department of Transportation (DOT) conducts road work.
Healthcare - $1.6 billion for healthcare access and care for those who need it most.
- Nursing Home Reimbursement Rates – we increased funding by $30 million over the biennium. This is a 6% increase. We also increased the acuity rate as part of the Medical Assistance cost to continue by 1%. The Governor increased these items by $10.7 million.
- Personal Care Worker Rates – we increased funding for personal care workers by $37 million over the biennium. We increased the current hourly rate from $16.73 per hour to $18.24 starting July 1, 2019. The Governor increased personal care rates $7 million over the biennium.
- Direct Caregivers in Family Care – we increased funding by $27 million over the biennium. The Governor’s budget had a $12 million increase. We have more than doubled the base funding for the direct care workforce.
- Children & Family Aids – We dramatically increased funding for these programs by $30.5 million. These dollars support our counties and social workers who are facing incredible challenges caring for children of families in crisis.
- Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding – We increased funding for qualifying hospitals by $60 million over the biennium. We also increased the maximum payment from $4.6 million to $9.6 million to meet increasing needs. PARTIALLY VETOED to remove the specific dollars.
- Rural Critical Care Hospital Supplement – We increased funding by $5.5 million annually and changed the definition to expand the program to more hospitals. In the 17th District, these increases will benefit Gunderson Boscobel Area Hospital and Clinic and Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County.
K-12 Education - $500 million more for schools.
- Total school spending $12.3 billion in the next biennium.
- Responded to the top three requests from school districts statewide:
1. Increase per pupil aid – we increased per pupil funding by $200 and $204 over the next four years - $604 total. VETOED. Through vetoed to increase spending to $742 per pupil, per year.
2. Increase special education funding – we increased special education funding by nearly $100 million – will cover 30% of costs by 2021.
3. Ensure funding provided can be counted on for years to come – done.
- Directed more funding through the Equalization Aids formula, which helps poor, rural schools.
- Raised the low-revenue limit adjustment for low-spending school districts and funded the increase in order relieve the property tax burden.
- Doubled the current funding for student mental health programs.
Rural Broadband Expansion - $48 million to expand rural broadband in our communities.
- The biggest investment Wisconsin has made in broadband expansion to date.
- More funding into each year of the biennium than in the total awarded since the program started in 2014.
University of Wisconsin System - $100 million more and $1 billion for capital projects.
- The legislature added $57.7 million to the UW’s $6.35 billion budget.
- Allocated $1 billion for capital projects to renovate and maintain existing buildings.
- Froze tuition for the fourth budget in a row – savings for students and families.
Corrections – Well-deserved pay raises for Correctional Staff and $162.6 million more.
- Approximately $2 more per hour starting January 1, 2020.
- Boost entry-level pay.
- Years-of-service awards for 10, 15, 20 and 25+ years of service.
Water – Grants and staff to improve Water Quality in Wisconsin.
- $1 mil for Producer-led Watershed grants that have been very successful in the 17th. VETOED to increase funding to $750,000 per year.
- $475,000 for grants for County Conservation Staff.
- $4 million for sediment clean-up bonding.
- $6.5 million for rural nonpoint source water pollution abatement grants.
- $400,000 for the Well Compensation Program to help low income individuals replace, reconstruct or treat contaminated water supplies. VETOED to $0.
- $4 million for dam safety grants
- Additional Environmental Management positions for water quality.
- Four new positions at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permitting office to help farmers improve water quality on their farms.
Agriculture - $8.8 for Dairy Innovation Hub and Agency Support Staff for Ag needs.
- Dairy Innovation Hub – We invested $8.8 million in the Dairy Task Force 2.0’s #1 priority. The UW will design the program and bring it back to us for approval. The JFC approved this program and it is actively working on all three campuses.
- Industrial Hemp – we created three positions at DATCP to regulate and support this emerging ag-industry.
- Farmer Mental Health – we invested $200,000 for DATCP to design a farmer mental health program.
- Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Grant – added $200,000 to the grant program.
- County Fair Aids – added $25,000 to bring County Fair Aids to $456,000.
- CAFO permitting staff – four new positions at DNR for the CAFO permitting office.
Natural Resources - Added scientists, increases to the areas that matter most and support for environmental protection.
- Reauthorized the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund for two years.
- No increases for hunting and fishing licenses.
- Created first automatic renewal for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses.
- Resources to fix state trails, especially the Elroy-Sparta and 400 Trails that were damaged in last fall’s flooding. VETOED
- Research on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). VETOED. $100,000 left for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to spend as they want to spend it.
Again, the state budget is one of the most important functions of our legislative session. I am proud of the work we did for you. The next state budget will be a very different challenge, but I am ready for it.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance. Send an email to email@example.com or call 608-266-0703.