All of us operate on a budget. Businesses, government, families and individuals use budgets to set their priorities and make ends meet. We have to make sure we have enough income to pay our bills and meet our obligations. The state budget is no different, except it is 705 pages long and stretches over two years.
After Gov. Tony Evers introduced his budget proposal in February, it went to the Joint Finance Committee, which held public hearings around the state. I attended the hearing at UW-Whitewater in April, where nearly all of the people who spoke supported Evers’ proposal.
After the hearings, the Joint Finance Committee decided what items to keep in the budget, what to take out and what to add. Right off the bat, the committee removed nearly 400 items. Among those items was $75,000 I asked the governor to designate for Clear Lake Road in the town of Milton. The road has been plagued by flooding damage. The committee removed that $75,000 but kept millions of dollars for other local projects.
When voting on a single bill, it’s usually easy as a legislator to take a position. On a 705-page budget bill that contains thousands of provisions, it’s much harder to decide. There’s so much included in the budget that no matter how you vote, you always wish some things were different.
Overall, I believe this is a good budget that will help the people I represent. The budget provides more money than previous budgets to fix deteriorating local and county roads. It delivers a $2.6 billion income tax break over the biennium.
The budget includes $202 million for small-business tax relief. The governor vetoed a separate bill relating to the personal property tax but pledged to work with the majority party on enacting a bill that ensures municipalities will not suffer from a loss of personal property tax revenue. I am hopeful a compromise will be reached.
The budget includes $647 million in state aid to cut property taxes. This will help neutralize the rising costs for fire and emergency medical services as we move to more full-time employment of our fire and ambulance services.
The budget will bring in an additional $2.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars for our K-12 schools. I favored the governor’s original proposal for a larger investment in schools. Fortunately, the governor used his veto pen to add $100 million above what the Joint Finance Committee approved.
The budget increases the reimbursement rate for Medicaid, which previously reimbursed health care providers at only 65% of costs—27% less than the national average. The budget increases the reimbursement rate even more for nursing homes, Family Care, dental services, and the Direct Care Workforce Fund. Altogether, between state and federal dollars, this amounted to more than $356 million to Wisconsin providers. These funding increases are critical to contend with workforce challenges in assisted living centers and nursing homes.
It was a good budget, but could have been better. We could have expanded Medicaid to capture an additional $1.6 billion in federal funding. We could have fixed our broken school funding formula. We could have provided a bigger tax cut to our lowest-income earners.
Voting on a budget isn’t easy, and not everyone is going to be happy with their legislator’s vote. In the end, though, what won my vote was property tax relief, income tax cuts, reducing taxes on small businesses, historic investments in broadband, making health care more affordable and freeing up more money for schools.