All content, of both the original and this blog, is written from my point of view and is my opinion. I believe it to be accurate at the time it is written. ~ Kyle Prast, Brookfield resident since 1986

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rep. Leah Vukmir's Budget Update: Assembly passes budget

The Democrat controlled Assembly passed Wisconsin's budget, with a 50 - 48 vote (big sigh), at 5:20 AM on Saturday. Voting pretty much ran along party lines, with the exception of 2 Democrats joining all of the Republicans in voting NO.

My State Assembly Representative Leah Vukmir sent me her report on the budget session and vote. (Contact Rep. Vukmir if you wish to be added to her email alert list.) Republicans were able to make a few changes, but most of the bloated budget passed and is now heading to the State Senate. She urges, as do I, that you contact your State Senator and the Senate Majority Leader, Russ Decker, "and let them know how you feel." (Contact info at bottom of post.)

Here is the "Good News" according to Rep. Vukmir's report: (My emphasis throughout)
  • They agreed to drop the Joint and Several liability provisions from the budget.
  • The Milwaukee County sales tax proposal was dropped from the original 6.6% to 6.25%.
  • Assembly Democrats, at the request of the U.W. System, removed a $28 million budget earmark for building a U.W. Madison School of Nursing.
  • They also agreed to eliminate various other earmarks from the Joint Finance version of the budget.
Her "Bad News" list is much longer:
  • They added their own earmarks for a new total of more than $37 million.
  • They increased the car rental tax, which is currently $2 to $18 to fund the proposed KRM rail line. [KRM was not eliminated from the budget]
  • They raided $338 million of segregated fees to fund general expenditures and to restore budget cuts.
  • The Democrat Caucus also took an unusual and potentially unconstitutional step by eliminating a statutory provision that requires annual revenues to exceed annual expenditures.
  • The Assembly Democrats added a provision that caps the Milwuakee County Open Enrollment program at last years level meaning that MPS students who had already enrolled in suburban schools for next year will have to return to MPS. This change will put significant pressure on suburban school districts that have already set their budgets for this fall.
  • One of the worst provisions that the Democrats debated throughout the day on Friday was to roll back the enrollment cap that was part of a 2006 School Choice compromise. The cap, currently 22,500 students, will be reduced to 21,5000 for the next two school-years....
Assembly Budget Vote:

During a twelve-hour session, my colleagues and I offered more than 150 amendments to try to improve the budget. Among the amendments I offered were the elimination of the KRM rail authority, elimination of the Milwaukee RTA and the sales tax increase, removal of the high-speed rail study, restoration of the current cap on the Milwaukee school choice program and removal of the new cap on Open Enrollment. All of these amendments failed.

The only amendment we managed to get adopted was a bipartisan provision that set stricter limits on which prisoners qualify for early release under the Joint Finance budget provisions.

The Spin vs. Reality:

Some of the early budget spin coming out of the capitol in defense of the budget includes claims that this budget has real spending cuts. That's simply not true. The budget increases overall spending by 6.3%, which is $3.7 billion more than the previous budget. Reducing the amount of a spending increase is not the same as a spending cut!

They are also claiming they are cutting the state payroll by over 1,300 government positions. The fact is that these are vacant positions and they have agreed to leave them unfilled during the two-year budget cycle.

The Democrats are also critical of Republicans for not offering an alternative. We did offer suggestions and our members on the Joint Finance Committee were outspoken in their criticism of a budget they knew would take our state in the wrong direction.

Further, we pushed for building our state budget on a process called "zero-based budgeting." The process requires every agency to justify each expense, including employees, and how it relates to their statutory mission or to the effective delivery of a particular service. Instead, they chose to go with the existing "cost-to-continue" budgeting, which simply builds the new budget from the existing base.

In addition to all of the new taxes and fees, this budget also backfills spending for ongoing programs like education and Medicaid with one-time federal stimulus money. This decision will create an even bigger shortfall in the next budget.

In the end, this budget is well beyond repair. The State Senate should go back to the drawing board and start from scratch! That is the only responsible thing to do.

Budget Awaits Senate Action:

The budget now moves to the State Senate where they could make additional modifications, including adding back the Joint and Several liability provisions, or adding more spending provisions.

The vote could take place as early as Wednesday or Thursday, so if you are concerned, now is the time to contact your senator.

Voter feedback has had an impact in Madison. While it may not have eliminated all of the bad provisions in the budget, the calls and emails from constituents took a toll on legislators. It took Assembly Democratic leadership 60 hours last week to find the votes in their caucus.

Keep those calls, emails and letters coming!

So there you have it. Rep. Vukmir does not paint a rosy picture, does she? Unless the Senate votes this down, we are headed toward higher taxes, fees, and more spending. I know we are sick of contacting our legislators, but it is our only tool right now.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D) (608) 266-2502, (715) 359-8739, Email:

Senator Jim Sullivan (D) (608) 266-2512, (866) 817-6061, Email:

Senator Ted Kanavas (R) (608) 266-9174, (800) 863-8883, Email:

Practically Speaking, Fairly Conservative, Betterbrookfield, RandyMelchert, CNS News, Jay Weber, Mark Levin, Vicki McKenna Jay Weber, The Right View Wisconsin, The Heritage Foundation

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