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A Column of Personal Opinion by State Senator Sheila Harsdorf
The state budget process came to an end last week as the State Legislature passed the amended budget bill, which was signed into law by the Governor over the weekend. Beginning with the introduction of the Governor’s budget bill earlier this year, the budget debate has proven challenging as we worked to invest in our state’s priorities while living within the means of taxpayers. Throughout the process, public input helped bring attention to a number of provisions in need of review and the final package approved by legislators was improved as a result.
I appreciate the input provided by area residents on the budget, expressing support or concerns with various provisions proposed in the budget. Thanks to the testimony at the public hearings and many comments from citizens on the budget bill, significant revisions were made, including removing changes to the Family Care and IRIS long-term care programs, maintaining Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), restoring funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and preserving the SeniorCare prescription drug program. The State Legislature also prioritized available resources for education by providing nearly $200 million in additional funding above the Governor’s proposal.
In addition to restoring funding for the Stewardship Program, the budget makes a number of important changes affecting conservation. I worked to restore funding for conservation programs and positions that are helping to improve water quality and preserve our resources in western Wisconsin and throughout the state. These positions include local county conservation and UW Extension staff that work with agricultural producers and landowners to implement best practices in conservation. A proposal to provide resources for farmer-led water quality initiatives was approved. The revised budget also preserves a role for citizens in developing agriculture and natural resources policies through the DATCP and Natural Resources Boards.
As property tax relief continues to be an important issue for homeowners, working families, and seniors, I am pleased that the budget passed by the State Legislature continues our efforts to reduce the property tax burden. While the effect on individual taxpayers will depend on local factors, such as the approval of referendums or changes in property values, the property taxes on a median-valued home in Wisconsin will again go down over the next two years according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This reduction builds upon our work to enact $500 million in property tax relief in the last legislative session, which included buying down the technical college levy by $400 million that resulted in about a 50% reduction in this line item on property tax bills.
The State Legislature also worked to reduce costs and improve taxpayer value through a number of budget initiatives. UW System students and their families will have certainty in their college costs as tuition will be frozen for an additional two years. A tax reform measure reduces the marriage penalty in the state income tax code. The budget bill will continue promoting lean initiatives and finding efficiencies in state government, while mandates on local governments that resulted in higher construction costs were repealed.
While there are inevitably provisions that I have concerns with in the state budget, I believe the budget bill passed by the Legislature represents significant improvement and reflects the feedback provided by citizens. I encourage your continued input by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.