At the beginning of each odd year, the Governor proposes a budget and the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) makes changes based on the Legislature’s suggestions and requests. This process has been in place since 1931.
This budget is a bit different than the previous four budgets – we are in divided government. Governor Evers and the Republican Legislature rarely agree on much. However, the budget that was signed into law was a win for the taxpayers. Despite 78 line-item vetoes by Gov. Evers, this budget addresses our needs, is fiscally responsible, and puts some money away for a rainy day. Governor Evers has inherited one of the best budget scenarios in decades. In part, this is thanks to responsible spending and government reforms that have taken place over the past eight years and a strong economy. Wisconsin is on the right track and I will do everything I can to ensure that the trend continues.
The budget crafted by JFC and presented to Governor Evers works for Wisconsin. It provides $500 million in income tax relief for the middle class. This was added by JFC and survived the veto pen. Education will see an increase of $500 million, along with a $25 million to the state’s technical colleges, doubles current funding for student mental health, and a 22% increase for special education. The budget also continues the UW System tuition freeze, a policy that keep tuition affordable and encourages our next generation to invest in themselves and attend college.
The biggest issue I hear about is healthcare. This budget tackles some of our state’s biggest healthcare issues. We provided $30 million for Children and Family Aids to provide additional resources for children impacted by the drug and substance abuse epidemic, which was inadequately funded in the Governor’s proposal.
During the budget process, I advocated for a 50% increase in respite care funding, the first time in two decades. My proposal passed the JFC process and was signed into law in the final budget bill. Respite care provides short-term relief to a family caregiver who needs time off from caring for an ill or elderly loved one. Currently in Wisconsin, there are over 578,000 family caregivers providing care to their parents, spouses, partners, and other adults. Giving these dedicated caregivers a break was a priority and I am glad we could deliver an increase in funding in this budget.
From what I have heard from constituents and experiencing it myself driving around the 42nd District, I know road maintenance had to be a priority in this budget. In the JFC version of the budget, an additional $90 million was allocated to local roads – split between county, village/city, and town projects. I am disappointed in Governor Evers for using his veto pen to reduce that number to $75 million and removing the limitations on where the funds could be spent. He has given the $75 million directly to DOT to be used for “transportation projects.” This could mean anything in Wisconsin that the department deems worthy, thus creating uncertainty at the local level and putting much needed local road improvement projects in peril. It is my hope that the entire amount is spent on local roads like it was intended.
Another one of the Governor’s vetoes eliminates the drug screening requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents to receive FoodShare. The Governor has now made it easier for able-bodied adults to stay on welfare without drug testing. It is unfortunate that a program that incentivizes people to take advantage of the record unemployment and current job market will go by the wayside because of politics.
Moving forward, despite disappointing line-item vetoes by Governor Evers, the 2019-2021 budget we have created works for Wisconsin. It cuts taxes for the middle class, doubles the rainy day fund, and maintains the fiscal responsibility that this state has fought so hard for over the last 10 years. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues throughout the rest of the session to make the best decisions for the people of this great state.
Jon Plumer represents the 42nd Assembly District.