Rep. Garey Bies On the Budget Repair Bill

Good day people of the First Assembly District. This has been the most difficult week of my 10+ years in the State Assembly. A wide range of emotions and long hours, the longest session in the history of the Wisconsin Assembly, which when it was all said and done, reached 62 hours.

Beginning when Governor Walker introduced his Budget Adjustment Bill on February 15, I have had many heart-felt conversations with a lot of people and some folks have been very angry. A lot of public employees are upset at the increased benefit contribution requirements and the limiting of collective bargaining rights. I understand their opposition to this. After all, one of the mantras of unions is to fight to improve benefits and then protect those won. But during the past two years, Wisconsin has lost 180,000 jobs, seen its economy shrink, and faced decreased state revenues while at the same time, expanded the size of state government by over 6 percent. This has left Wisconsin facing a state deficit of $3.6 Billion. At the state level, salaries and benefits eat up 60 percent of General Purpose Revenue and are 75 percent of expenses for school districts. Wisconsin is now broke. For too long politicians have been just kicking the problems of state finance down the road. And this past November, the people spoke loud and clear that enough is enough. No more passing the buck on to the next generation. Fix the problems now. The past two years have been very difficult for a lot of people: family members, friends, fellow district residents, all facing tough financial circumstances. One thing about being “older and wiser” is when you get to my age, you seen enough years to experience the entire range of such circumstances. My wife reminded me of the early days when after the bills were paid and the food was bought I would say “Two weeks until the next payday and we have $10 left.” It wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now. In the Assembly it was a very long, historic debate. All those hours over amendment after amendment. Lots of reading, talking, and research to find out the “what ifs” and “therefores.” The question came down as to how to vote. And that question was not a question about what was best for my family or my friends, but what was best for all citizens of Wisconsin and the financial future of the state.

I voted to support the Governor’s bill. The consequences of not doing so were too severe: over 1,500 public employees will lose their jobs in just the next three months and an additional 6,000+ state workers will lose their jobs in the next budget and thousands more local public employees would also lose their jobs. In addition, $30 million will be lost for health care coverage in the next three months, affecting 92,000 adults or 16,000 elderly and blind. It’s time for state government to share in the difficulties affecting the rest of Wisconsin. This bill is only the first piece of the puzzle to fix the state budget and represents less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion deficit. But it is a significant piece that will allow government the flexibility to deal with the single biggest portion of their budgets so that the rest can be addressed. Without tackling the costs of salaries and benefits for now and in the future, a balanced state budget once again just becomes an accounting gimmick.

Thanks for reading today. As always, feel free to contact me with your thoughts or