Area Residents Shine in Spooner
I know some of my colleagues in Madison get tired of hearing me talk about how lucky I am to live in Northern Wisconsin. It’s not only the north’s beautiful forests, lakes and streams, and ever-changing shore of Lake Superior that make it special, it’s the people who choose to make this part of the state home that I value most. People who are always ready to help a neighbor, to lend a hand when the going gets rough.
A number of my colleagues got a chance to see those special qualities on display this week. The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee held a public hearing on the Governor’s 2017-2018 Budget in Spooner on Tuesday. I was honored to open the session with a welcome. Right from the start, it was clear that the people of the North are passionate, knowledgeable and concerned about how decisions made in Madison will affect not only themselves, but their neighbors and friends as well, including the vulnerable and less fortunate among us. I was proud that so many of my constituents took the time to come and testify. And I was thrilled that Senators and Representatives from other parts of the state were able to experience a little bit of what makes Northern Wisconsin so special.
Area residents spoke eloquently about the need to bring more of our state tax dollars home for our schools and roads, increasing access to health care, raising the Medicaid re-imbursement rate and creating jobs that pay well for a hard day’s work. A number of people wanted to talk about the Governor’s proposal to put an end to the forestry mill tax. This tax supports an industry that has been an integral part of Wisconsin’s history and more importantly, one that is vital to Northern Wisconsin’s future. Forestry is about more than the forests in our part of the state, it supports so many other Wisconsin businesses from paper-making, rail and truck transport and manufacturing.
Unfortunately, the Governor’s proposal would put Forestry at risk by eliminating the mill tax, which provides a dedicated source of funding for Forestry programs. Going forward, funding for these programs would have to compete with other priorities for General Purpose Revenue. I agree with those of you who warned that ending the state’s century-old model of supporting an industry that too few Wisconsinites south of Highway 8 recognize could jeopardize our way of life in Northern Wisconsin, as well as negatively impact the state’s economy as a whole. I was proud to hear so many passionate defenses of forestry that responsibly utilizes and renews this resource.
I also want to also acknowledge those who put a Northern touch on issues important to everyone in the state. Ben Barrett, who serves our communities so well and chairs Governor Walker’s Council on Physical Disabilities, spoke passionately about the unique challenges people with disabilities in our communities face with access to transportation and care.
The final public hearing on the budget will have been held in Marinette by the time you read this and the next step will be weeks of votes on specific items by the committee that visited Spooner. The 16-member Joint Finance Committee will spend most of May taking up the budget piece by piece, agency by agency in a series of day-long voting sessions.
I will continue to update you on the budget’s progress as the bill moves through the committee and to the full Senate and Assembly in June. The most important voices in this process are yours and I was proud to have the chance to hear so many of our friends and neighbors from beginning to end of the Spooner hearing. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and to our legislative colleagues as this process continues.