Legislature’s Budget Bill Undermines State’s COVID Recovery
Our do-nothing legislature is back at work making things worse, not better, for residents of the state.
After refusing to meet for 10 months at the height of the pandemic, and leaving all serious COVID policy to the Governor and local government, the legislature is back in session shortchanging our educational, health care and transit systems and ignoring critical needs and emerging problems.
After rejecting Governor Evers budget, yesterday, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a state budget bill, a $87.5 billion dollar package for the 2021-2023 biennium. The bill contains numerous provisions that hurt our City and its residents.
Education: In a deceptive shell game, the budget accepts $2.3 billion in federal assistance for schools, but provides little assistance for baseline expenditures or inflationary costs. MMSD Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said the federal funds were meant to boost learning in communities that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and not to pay for ongoing, yearly expenses. Legislative leader Rep. Gordon Hintz worries that it will result in the layoff of teachers over the next two years. The bill spends 1/10th of what was proposed by Governor Evers in his budget for education on classrooms.
Health Care: The bill also harms Madison kids and families and betrays Wisconsin taxpayers by rejecting federal support for health care. Some had hoped that a global pandemic which showed the flaws and inequities in our private health care system might convince a few Republican leaders to soften their hard line on the expansion of Badger Care, but the bill rejected $1 billion (yes, that’s billion with a B) in aid to the life-saving health care program, throwing some 90,000 Wisconsinites under the bus. Citizen Action Wisconsin called for a veto to address the bill’s “reckless cruelty.”
Transit: The Joint Finance Committee slashed in half the Mass Transit Operating Assistance for two of the state’s largest transit systems representing roughly $41 million over the biennium. Of the more than 20 transit systems in the state, the budget cuts target only Madison and Milwaukee in a blatantly partisan attack. Mass transit will be critical for getting our residents back to work and our economies thriving again. Both cities are planning on breaking ground soon on critical bus rapid transit projects to better serve city residents and those surrounding communities. Shortchanging Madison and Milwaukee as they embark on these major endeavors, which will create good-paying jobs and connect workers to employers, will undercut the economic recovery of these regions and the state overall.
Shifting the Tax Burden: The legislature is also planning to repeal the personal property tax. Repealing the personal property tax does not relieve a homeowner’s tax burden, but it does reduce the corporate tax burden. Businesses are the sole beneficiaries of the repeal which would shift more of the tax burden onto the state’s residents. The downstream impact of losing this revenue is immense to a City like ours. In 2024 an approximate average increase to residential property taxes would be $400. This amount would increase 10% each year as our personal property tax base increases 10% each year, thus, the negative impact grows over time. You can learn more about this from our City Assessor Michelle Drea in this Wisconsin State Journal op-ed.
Moreover, the Joint Finance Committee also kept Shared Revenue for localities flat and gutted proposed municipal sales tax authority to provide property tax relief to our small businesses. Wisconsin’s practice of sharing state income and sales tax revenue with localities so that they are not overly reliant on property tax payers goes back decades, but despite unprecedented growth in state income and sales tax revenue, this budget continues a tradition started by Governor Walker of starving cities, towns and villages of the revenue they need to provide essential services in a manner that does not overburden property tax payers.
University System: For the University of Wisconsin System, the budget includes an increase of $8 million for all campuses over two years, a fraction of the $191 million proposed by the Governor. The budget also slashes millions in spending for new construction at the UW including a new College of Engineering building at UW-Madison that would have supported growth in the number of new engineering students and enhanced research activity in areas that are important to Wisconsin’s economic future.
Homelessness: While Governor Evers requested $70 million in the budget to combat homelessness, the legislature only included $1.2 million a drop in the bucket. For comparison purposes, Madison and Dane County this year alone are devoting over $8 million to construct a purpose built men’s homeless shelter, and last year the City spent $4.8 million on temporary shelters and services related to homelessness.
PFAS Clean Up Funds: In another short sighted move, the legislature set aside only $1 million for clean water efforts while Governor Evers proposed $10 million for PFAS mitigation efforts. PFAS contamination is a giant problem in cities and towns all over Wisconsin, and most localities do not have the deep pockets to deal with it. State and federal funds, as well as state and federal standards, will be needed to deal with this issue.
In addition to these measures the budget bill also stripped hundreds of items including a boost that would bring the state’s minimum wage to $10.15 by 2023, marijuana legalization, and restoration of collective bargaining for public employees. All in all, the legislature has made it clear that the don’t care what happens to our schools, our environment, our families or our great City which is an economic engine for the entire state.
The budget goes to Governor Evers next, who has a lot to weigh in exercising his veto pen. If you have thoughts about the above or anything else in the state budget, you can contact him here.