Kenosha News. January 29, 2023.
Editorial: Frosty state budget process begins
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
— Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Frost’s words came to mind Tuesday night as Gov. Tony Evers laid out his vision for the next state budget in his State of the State address and—as expected—it was immediately panned by Republican legislators.
Now the hard work begins.
With the state of Wisconsin in the enviable position of having a $7 billion budget surplus, it would seem to us that compromises on how to allocate those dollars in a way that both Democrats and Republicans can agree would be a do-able chore.
Evers’ vision is breath-taking in scope—he pledged millions of dollars for mental health services, particularly for children who have spent the last three years struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic; billions in new spending for classrooms and to recruit more teachers; increased funding for state municipalities through shared revenue; and a war on PFAS, the forever chemicals that threaten state drinking water.
That took the breath away from Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, who greeted Evers’ speech with: “Boy, he sure is trying to spend a lot of money. “We’ll see in a month what his budget entails, but I was trying to add up the numbers going along, and he’s trying to spend a lot of the hard-earned taxpayer money of Wisconsin.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was even less charitable, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Pretty much everything he proposed today was a government expansion. So I would assume that most of those are DOA. “We already have a government that’s too big and too expensive. In Wisconsin I want to reduce the size of it so that people can help deal with inflationary costs brought on by the pandemic and the response to it.”
Still, Vos held out an olive branch of sorts, saying, “But if he had good ideas, I’m happy to listen.”
A good spot for that listening to begin—for both Evers and Vos—would be in a discussion of state shared revenues to help municipalities deal with rising costs and the long-term effects of state-imposed levy limits.
There seems to be some common ground here.
In his speech Tuesday, Evers said he wants to send up to 20% of the state’s sales tax revenue to local governments in the biennial budget. The governor previously had said he wanted to increase state payments to cities, villages, towns and counties by 8% and add another $10 million for police, EMS and fire costs.
But this is the first time Evers has indicated he was open to using the sales tax to fund those efforts—and that’s a measure that Republicans have been advocating for months.
So, there’s your starting point.
Yes, there are miles to go in the long and contentious budget process, And, yes, as Frost wrote, the woods may seem dark and deep at times. But, we’re confident that Evers, Vos and LeMahieu, can find a way to get the job done in the coming months.
Then we can all sleep.
Wisconsin State Journal. January 30, 2023.
Editorial: Speed path from prison to paycheck
Wisconsin doesn’t have enough workers.
Wisconsin does have a lot of people in prison, most of whom will eventually get out.
Are you thinking what Sen. Mary Felzkowski is?
The Republican from Irma, about 175 miles north of Madison in Lincoln County, has been leading a bipartisan study group for the last year seeking a quicker path to paychecks for inmates after they’re released from prison. That doesn’t mean going easy on violent criminals or letting the most heinous killers go free. But it does mean improving the odds of success for the many offenders who deserve a second chance.
Speeding their transition to jobs will be good for employers who have positions to fill. Wisconsin was struggling with a workforce shortage long before the pandemic hit, which only made chronic vacancies worse.
It will be good for offenders, who often struggle to find work because of their checkered pasts.
But mostly it will benefit Wisconsin communities and public safety. That’s because landing a job is one of the best ways to stay out of trouble, research suggests.
So far, Felzkowski’s study group — the Legislative Council Study Committee on Increasing Offender Employment Opportunities — has been building momentum toward several promising proposals, including:
— Creating a hotline for employers interested in hiring ex-offenders.
— Teaching prisoners how to find apartments before they actually need one.
— Allowing early release for nonviolent offenders who complete job training.
— Protecting landlords from potential legal liability if they rent to ex-inmates.
— Requiring the Department of Corrections to create a robust community reentry center.
Success will require a lot more than just good ideas, of course. To have a real impact, it’s going to demand money. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature should commit a significant amount to the cause in the next state budget, which is supposed to be approved by July 1.
So far, the governor has expressed general support for the study group’s efforts, though a cost estimate is pending.
Investing in this noble cause should be easier than usual because the state is sitting on a $7 billion surplus. And unlike so many issues that trigger partisan disputes at the statehouse, the focus of Felzkowski’s study group already has built-in consensus.
Among the Democrats on her committee is Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, who has an impressive track record of bringing people together for tangible results. Stubbs, for example, partnered with former Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, last year to negotiate and pass a package of bills to improve policing in Wisconsin.
Felzkowski’s study committee, which includes experts in employment and recidivism, is close to finalizing its package of ideas. Then the proposals will be sent to the Joint Legislative Council, which includes the top leaders from both political parties and houses. Those leaders should give the study group’s recommendations the high priority they deserve this spring.
Wisconsin needs more workers, less recidivism and safer communities. Passing the committee’s package will help accomplish all three goals.