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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Mailbag: Vinehout: Invitation to a Town Hall Meeting

State Budget Decisions Affect You! Town Hall offers an opportunity to learn and speak out. Join me at a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the state budget. The two-year budget affects you in ways you may never have imagined. There’s almost $70 billion in spending in this budget. The economy’s slowly improving; more money is coming in from taxes and fees. This budget spends about $3.2 billion more than the last budget What should we do with the dollars? The budget slightly reduces tax rates. For eligible taxpayers, the average tax decrease will be $83 in 2014. State spending increases in some areas and decreases in others. One of the more surprising decreases is the money used to operate the court system. The Governor proposes the largest budget reduction for the court system in the state’s history. Chief Justice Abrahamson called the cuts “debilitating” and listed a number of consequences including delayed trials, reductions in the courts information system (CCAP) and cuts in the very effective alternative treatment courts. She recently testified before the budget committee that over the last five years the courts experienced a turnover of approximately a third of judges. Attracting high quality attorneys to the position of judge is increasingly difficult. The budget makes a number of changes in health care and education. A big part of the spending increase goes to Medicaid including Family Care and BadgerCare. The budget includes over $17 million in administrative spending and a large increase to continue the program. But the Medicaid program will change. The Governor proposes removing over 100,000 people from BadgerCare – mostly parents whose children stay covered under federal law. In addition some will gain coverage under BadgerCare: those who do not have children under age 19 and make about $11,500 or less annually (about $15,500 for a couple). While investments in health care increased by about $2 billion (all funds), new investments directed into public education are limited to only about $39 million. According to Tony Evers, State Superintendent of Schools, 70% of the new education money goes to expand independent charter schools or fund private voucher schools. Local school districts are still trying to deal with nearly $1.6 billion cut to state and local resources included in the last budget. In the new budget, popular programs like SAGE, school breakfast, sparsity aid for rural schools, funds for libraries, transportation, special education, gifted and talented and bilingual children are all funded at or below previous budget levels. At the same time private school payments and independent charter schools are dramatically expanded. Private schools vouchers are expanded to include many medium size school districts. Independent charter schools may expand statewide. These charter schools would not follow all the usual laws governing K-12 education, including teacher licensing. Any nonprofit organization could apply to start a charter school. Applications would be approved by a new politically-appointed statewide board. Superintendents tell me these policy changes are so big they deserve a special hearing and should not be included in the state’s fiscal budget. School boards worry these big policy changes will drain money from public schools and dramatically change education over coming years. The budget proposes other changes in policies unrelated to the fiscal matters such as changes to the requirements for the sale of state power plants and other state assets. Law enforcement personnel would be required to collect DNA at the point of arrest. Retirees could no longer collect a WRS pension and work two-thirds time. Local laws requiring county and school employees to be residents in the community or county where they work would not be allowed. The budget raises questions we all must carefully consider. Should restrictions on foreigners buying Wisconsin land be eliminated? State law now limits alien land purchases to a square mile. Should rent-to-own stores remove the disclosure of interest rates from appliances, electronics and furniture they sell? That’s also in the state budget. The state budget affects your family in ways you never imagined. Get to know the details and share your thoughts at one of my upcoming town hall meetings. Please call if you need details 877-763-6636 (toll free). Sen. Vinehout Town Hall Meetings Saturday, April 13 - BLACK RIVER FALLS 1:00pm-3:00pm Black River Falls Middle School Commons - 1202 Pierce Street Monday, April 15 - CENTERVILLE 6:30pm-8:30pm Town of Trempealeau Town Hall - W24854 State Road 54/93 Tuesday, April 16 - EAU CLAIRE 6:30pm-8:30pm L.E. Phillips Memorial Library - 400 Eau Claire Street Monday, April 22 - PRESCOTT 5:00pm-7:00pm Prescott City Hall - 800 Borner Street Tuesday, April 23 - MONDOVI 6:30pm-8:30pm Roger Marten Community Center - 120 South Franklin Street If you know someone who would like to be added to this distribution list, please let us know.

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