By The Associated Press

Kenosha News. March 12, 2023.

Editorial: Use state surplus for infrastructure

Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed $3.8 billion capital budget for the next two years is a heady package indeed and would mark an historic investment package in Wisconsin’s infrastructure needs – much of it going to the University of Wisconsin System.

At $3.8 billion, the package is half again what Evers proposed in two previous capital budgets – which were whittled down by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

In his last budget two years ago, Evers proposed nearly $1.1 billion for the UW System, including a new Engineering Building to replace the existing one that is 83 years old and is in poor and unsanitary condition. Lawmakers cut that in half, ultimately approving $629 million and leaving out $150 million to start construction of a new Engineering Building.

In his new proposal, Evers is suggesting $1.8 billion in infrastructure spending for the UW System, and yes, it includes the Engineering Building, again.

Announcing his budget plan, Evers said, ”Our historic surplus means we have historic opportunity and responsibility to invest in key projects that have long been neglected while still staying well within our means, keeping borrowing low and saving taxpayers money in the long run, and that’s exactly what our Capital Budget does.”

There is much, much more in the Capital Budget: $11.5 million for a new State Patrol/DMV facility in Spooner; $41.5 million to replace the central kitchen at the state’s veterans’ home at King and $10 million for power plant repairs; $7 million for the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay; even $12.5 million to repair and renovate the cream puff pavilion at State Fair Park in West Allis.

The list is seemingly endless and many infrastructure improvements will likely be eliminated or cut back by Republicans. That’s a delicate process, though, because Evers still has a veto power and can reject the package that comes back to him.

One place the Democrat governor and GOP leaders might find consensus, though, is in the use of some of the state’s record $7 billion budget surplus to fund these construction projects. Hopefully, that will encourage consensus on the specific projects as well.

Evers has proposed funding half of the Capital Budget—$1.9 billion – using state surplus money. That would diminish the state’s need to borrow and by the governor’s estimation would save state taxpayers $1 billion in future debt service payments.

That “pay-as-you-go” approach seems to have some GOP support. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, recently told the Wisconsin Counties Association, “Now we do have an historic opportunity with about $7 billion in our savings account to make one-time investments. What would be one-time investments worth making? Probably borrowing less money than we ordinarily would, because right now interest rates are over 4-5%.”

We agree. Using some of the state surplus to invest in needed repairs to state facilities is a good use of that money and will save taxpayers money in the long run – but it has to be done judiciously and can’t include everything and the kitchen sink.

As State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, joked last month, “Everyone has spent that surplus two or three times.”


Racine Journal Times. March 8, 2023.

Editorial: Transparency needed in state Parole Commission decisions

We knew this was bound to happen. It’s about time.

When a public furor erupted last spring over the Wisconsin Parole Commission’s decision to release Douglas Balsewicz from prison after he had served 25 years of his 80-year sentence for the brutal stabbing of his wife, Johanna Balsewicz in 1997, we knew it was just a matter of time before state legislators took up their pens and crafted legislation to change state laws.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, have put together a bill that would mandate the commission follow the state’s open meetings laws and post notices of their meetings. Currently, the commission is exempt from the open meetings law.

Wanggaard and Spiros also want the commission to post the names of individuals granted or denied parole as well as monthly and annual totals. Commission agendas currently don’t list parole applicants’ names.

For too long, the parole commission has made its decisions in relative darkness and in many cases the victims or relatives of vicious crimes have not even known that someone convicted and sentenced for a crime was even up for parole – or had already been paroled.

This legislation would remedy that.

Balsewicz had been convicted of breaking in to his estranged wife’s West Allis home and stabbing her more than 40 times in front of their children, a 4-year-old boy and his 2-year-old sister. The slaying was discovered the next day when a neighbor saw the children wandering outside their home with blood on their hands and feet.

He was denied parole once, but it was granted last year and the family was not notified until six days before Balsewicz was scheduled to be released from prison.

Public outrage ensued after the family pressed Gov. Tony Evers to block the release – which he had no power to do. But Evers did pressure Parole Board chairman John Tate, of Racine, to reconsider the parole given that the family was not able to contest the release. Tate did so and the commission rescinded the parole.

The furor carried into last fall’s elections where Republicans made it an issue in the governor’s race.

The problem is that the Balsewicz case is not alone. The conservative news publication Wisconsin Right Now last fall detailed multiple cases of victims or families of victims not being notified of parole hearings and not being allowed to weigh in with the commission before a parole is granted, even though state law requires the commission to make an effort to make those notifications.

To be clear, this is not a growing problem because the state Legislature adopted the “Truth in Sentencing” law in 1999 which requires someone who is convicted of a crime to serve their full sentence. Under the old parole system an individual is eligible for parole after serving 25% of his or her sentence and the commission makes a decision based their behavior while incarcerated, their plans for housing and employment, proof they’ve reduced their risk to the public and other factors.

Currently, only about 10% of the state’s prison population of 20,000 – or 2,000 inmates – fall under the old parole system and those numbers will decline with time.

Some Democrats voiced opposition to the new bill at a hearing two weeks ago saying they were concerned it would strip parole applicants of their privacy and subject them to harassment.

“I’m a strong believer in if you have done your time the constitution gives you the right to be released (and) live without hassle or intimidation,” said Rep. Christine Sinicki.

We disagree. As Sen. Wanggaard noted, parole applicants haven’t finished their sentences and don’t have their full slate of rights. The commission would still be allowed to discuss parole applicants’ histories and medical issues in private, he said.

The proposed legislation would underscore the rights of victims to contest parole decisions before they are made and would bring needed transparency to the state’s parole system. A legislative committee decision on the bill could come this week and it would then go to the full Assembly, where we urge its approval.

In Gov. Evers’ budget bill, he calls for “clarifying the responsibilities” of the commission to notify victims’ families when a convict applies for parole and upon release. That’s a little mushy, but given Evers’ experience with the Balsewicz case, we would expect that he would sign this bill when it reaches his desk, as well he should.