Democrats on the Budget

The $73 billion biennium budget passed on an 18-15 vote in the senate, with only Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) joining Democrats in voting against the budget (Cowles went on record in April that he is against including non-fiscal items in the budget).

The Assembly voted 52-46 for the budget, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the budget (Rep. Kathleen Bernier, Chippewa Falls; Rep. Ed Brooks, Reedsburg; Rep. James Edming, Glen Flora; Rep. David Heaton, Wausau; Rep. Scott Krug, Nekoosa; Rep. Lee Nerison, Westby; Rep. Todd Novak, Dodgeville; Rep. Warren Petryk, Eleva; Rep. Keith Ripp, Lodi; Rep. Travis Tranel, Cuba City; and Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, Tomah).

Two Democratic members of the Assembly – Rep. Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) – came to Door County to give their views on the budget.


Non-fiscal items in the budget


Eric Genrich (EG):  It’s kind of a longstanding issue and it’s something that legislators who are opposed to the issue tend to bring up. But it’s totally unprecedented – the number of proposals and the length of this final motion that they call the Motion 999, which has gotten a lot of attention for its attack on open records and other provisions in the bill. It’s a real and growing issue.

Why would you stick something into the budget? Generally speaking, it’s because it’s either very controversial or you don’t think the issue can stand on its own. If it’s pulled out of as bill and receives a hearing and is forced to have a vote in committee it’s just not going to pass. So you have something like this open records, clearly they weren’t comfortable vetting that through the entire legislative process for obvious reasons. It created immense amount of outrage from our constituency and also in the press and they were, of course, forced to walk that back.

There are other issues that they’ve put into this 999 motion including assaults on our living wage standard in the state of Wisconsin. As a result of all these issues being forced in this last motion, I don’t think it’s gotten that much attention. Without having any kind of a public hearing or any kind of discussion about that, they just eliminated the living wage standard. Clearly that would have created a lot of negative attention had they pulled it out of the budget and done it in the legislative process so that’s why they chose to stick it in there.


Katrina Shankland (KS):  This non-fiscal policy item in the budget is basically a vehicle to accomplish that which cannot be accomplished through the normal legislative process. This happens when a bill has failed repeatedly. Special needs vouchers failed repeatedly in the committee process, so all of the sudden it’s in the budget. But also to sneak things through at the last second. To use the budget to accomplish unpopular and controversial legislation or policy I think is extremely irresponsible. I personally think it’s an abuse of power to try to accomplish as much as possible through the budget when the budget should be a fiscal document. Remember when the governor tried to change the definition of the Wisconsin Idea? If we’re going to have a discussion about what our UW system does to serve our communities, it should be through the normal legislative process. If we’re going to have a discussion about your right to information and taxpayers’ rights to information that they pay for by funding the legislature, then that should be done over years, not a couple of hours. And that’s what we thought was extremely disturbing.

With this Motion 999, it came out at about 5 pm on Thursday (July 2) and they voted on it that night. I wonder how many people were traveling up to Door County at that time without knowing anything.


Walker’s presidential run and the budget


EG:  One of the things that’s become pretty clear over the past few months, even though the governor just announced that he’s going to be running for president, I think it’s been pretty clear that he’s been running for president for the past few months. In order to support those efforts, he’s written a document that appeals to folks that fund Republican campaigns and people that vote in Republican primaries and Republican caucus goers. At a time when schools in Door County are facing a real funding crunch, the governor has found enough resources to shift them to private schools, largely unaccountable private voucher schools, to the detriment of public school kids across Wisconsin.

Another one where he is totally out of line with pretty much every Republican governor in the Midwest is with the acceptance of federal Medicaid dollars. He has turned his back on $360 million just in this biennium in order to stay true to his extreme ideology.

I think the voucher program is something that was talked a lot about. He seems to be very close to voucher interests across the country. He’s made this a big talking point when he’s talking about running for president.

The unfortunate thing is that you can understand why the governor introduced the budget that he did because he is running for president. But I think the disappointing thing is to see the Republican legislature enable that kind of bad behavior.

I think this budget makes a lot more sense as a campaign document than a fiscal document. Transportation is another great example of the governor putting his campaign above the state. US 41 is a good example of a road that people are asking us to make an investment in. We have roads all over the state, including in small towns, that need repairs and the governor said, “You know what, we’re not going to do a sustainable funding source,” because he is essentially running for president and he wants to say he didn’t have any new fees. What’s happened as a result is that in this budget, a lot of projects are delayed for an unspecific number of years and that has lost us another 5,500 jobs. If you add all those up, that’s a heavy price for the people of Wisconsin to pay just because the governor is running for president.


School voucher

EG:  We are failing to support the existing school system that we have. We don’t have the resources for two-school systems in the state of Wisconsin. You have Green Bay schools that are being underfunded, Door County schools existing with this broken funding formula for at least the last 10-20 years.


KS:  Most people agree that you shouldn’t take public money and put it into a private entity so why are we doing that for schools when this has been a failed experiment with vouchers? Performance is no better than in public schools, but children also have far fewer rights when they are in private schools. They aren’t protected by the federal idea.