Petersen examines state’s funding priorities
By Rep. Kevin Petersen
With 1,570 pages of items, you will never get 132 legislators with different backgrounds representing divergent areas of the state to agree on the entire budget. Nor, if I randomly selected 10 out of the more than 58,000 constituents I represent, would those 10 ever agree on the entire state budget.
Therefore, I must weigh the positives and negatives of a budget and analyze how it will affect seniors, veterans, businesses, families, and education in my district.
Educating Wisconsin’s future remains a top priority. During the next biennium, K-12 education will receive a funding increase of $200 million over the previous budget. Approximately 35 cents of every tax dollar collected will be for K-12 education. In total, Wisconsin taxpayers will be investing $11.35 billion in educating children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Parents looking for alternatives will have additional opportunities to enroll their children in school choice programs. Additionally, funding for Career and Technical Education skills will continue; funds were allocated for broadband and digital learning in rural schools and; for the for the first time, teachers will be able to deduct $250 on their Wisconsin tax forms specifically covering supplies they purchased for their classrooms.
Beyond our children, the budget addresses educating and training young adults as well as older adults. Two years ago I voted to freeze college tuition for in-state undergraduates enrolled in the UW System. I voted to extend the freeze for an additional two years while also giving the universities increased flexibilities toward their operations.
Wisconsin’s future includes employing adults as well. As technology advances, needed skill sets change. This budget apportions $15 million into the Wisconsin Fast Forward worker training program. We will forever owe our veterans. Developing and expanding support services for veterans in the Wisconsin Technical College System will be facilitated with a $1 million grant.
SeniorCare – the popular prescription drug program for Wisconsin’s low income seniors will be fully funded providing those in need their life saving medication. Seniors often mention their hardship living on a fixed income. On average, property taxes will remain frozen for the next two years. Furthermore, sales taxes and income taxes will not see increases, plus the marriage income tax penalty was reduced. Wisconsin’s married couples will see a total of $21 million in relief.
Family Care has been extended statewide. Medicaid was allocated over $1 billion more in the 2015-17 budget. The Department of Health Services will spend $22,904,831,900 between state and federal contributions in multiple programs.
Borrowing for transportation is the lowest it’s been in nearly three decades. Furthermore, all areas of the state will be held equal so major road projects in Milwaukee will not take priority over those in the 40th Assembly District. Wisconsin’s gas tax will not be raised, nor will registration fees be increased.
A budget amendment was added which repealed the prevailing wage requirement for all local governments. School districts, counties, cities, towns, villages, technical colleges and municipal utilities will all have another tax saving tool.
Proposals to change Open Record laws, the make-up of the Wisconsin Retirement System Board, and the Bucks arena were all removed from the budget.
Until four years ago, Wisconsin’s rainy day stabilization account existed, but remained virtually unfunded. In the last four years, the Republican-controlled legislature funded the account to $280 million. The 2015-17 budget is balanced without tapping into the state’s reserves.
After analyzing it, I voted “yes” for a budget which reflects the priorities and feedback from a majority of my constituents.