DrydenWire.com reached out to six area law-makers regarding several current topics that we asked for them to weigh in on. Below you will find the questions we asked from 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Of the six, 3 are Senators and 3 are Representatives.
DrydenWire.com: Governor Evers’ budget included over a billion dollars in tax and fee increases. Was it the right move for the Finance Committee to remove those tax hikes?
Senator Janet Bewley (D): The people of Wisconsin deserve to have the budget and the ideas behind it debated openly and freely for the public to see, regardless if any one item is to be included in the final budget or not. I’m disappointed that 11 members of the Finance Committee removed 131 different budget items before discussion even began. It doesn’t make sense to focus only on the overall tax increase in a budget – we need to look at who would be paying more and who would be paying less and what those increased taxes would be used for. Our roads and bridges are in need of repair, local taxpayers have approved referendum after referendum because the state isn’t paying its share of local education costs and we need to do more to fight the meth and opioid crisis.
Senator Tom Tiffany (R): On November 2, 2018, just days before the election, the Governor claimed he was not planning on raising taxes. After he introduced his budget, the statement was rated a “full flop” by Politifact. Over the last several years, we’ve reduced taxes by over $8 billion. It is certainly not the right time to turn back and start raising taxes – especially when we have an additional $2 billion in revenue expected to come in.
Senator Patty Schachtner (D): The Joint Committee on Finance voted to remove Medicaid expansion along with 130 additional items from the budget proposed by Governor Tony Evers. This is in spite of recent polls showing that 70 percent of Wisconsinites support expanding Medicaid, which would increase access to affordable health care while bringing in $1.6 billion in new federal funding to make investments in rural hospitals, mental health care, and dental care. I believe that a budget reflects our priorities. The governor’s proposed budget was balanced. However, by stripping Medicaid expansion and other elements from the budget, the committee has created a $1.4 billion shortfall. I hope that the committee and governor will work together so that our budget reflects the will of the people.
Representative Romaine Quinn (R): When we began discussing the budget in January, our non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) expected the state to have a surplus of $690 million left over from the last budget. On top of that, LFB anticipated that the state’s finances would continue to improve, and that our budget would grow by a total of $2.47 billion over the next two years. In fact, LFB discovered that their estimates were low: Wisconsin’s revenues are now expected to grow by almost $3 billion over the next two years.
That budget grew because companies in Wisconsin are more productive and workers are earning more money. Over the last 8 years, Republicans have helped that happen through lowering taxes and creating an environment where we encourage entrepreneurs to grow. Those policies help everyone in the state, and that growth allows us to keep cutting individual taxes while actually taking in more money overall.
So the Governor had almost $3 billion more in his budget than in Governor Walker’s last budget. But even that wasn’t enough for him: he wants to raise taxes on manufacturers and home owners, the very people that contributed to that huge budget growth. Wisconsin leads every state but Ohio in manufacturing, so why would we target an industry that’s so critical for our state? We want people to stay in their homes as long as they can, and keeping their property taxes low is a piece of that. If we want communities and schools to have more funding, the state should invest and not throw it on the backs of property taxpayers.
Representative Nick Milroy (D): The Governor put together his budget by listening to the people of Wisconsin. Many of the budget provisions are of great importance to the citizens in northern Wisconsin. A cornerstone of the budget is lowering taxes on middle and lower income earners and paying for it by getting rid of unnecessary tax exemptions for luxury businesses such as Deer Farms where people pay thousands of dollars to kill captive animals. The largest tax credit that is being considered for repeal is disproportionately benefiting the rich. Nearly 80 percent of this tax credit goes to income earners that make over $1 million a year.
Representative Gae Magnafici (R): Absolutely. Wisconsin residents are taxed enough. The state of Wisconsin had a $588 million surplus for the last biennium, and I was proud to cosponsor a bill that would have returned that surplus to the taxpayers in the form of a middle class tax cut. Governor Evers vetoed that bill, and has proposed a budget that raises taxes and will leave Wisconsin with a structural deficit of well over a billion dollars. I don’t believe Wisconsin residents need more taxes, and our surplus revenues are evidence that the state of Wisconsin can continue to move forward with current tax rates.
DrydenWire.com: Do you believe WI has an insurance coverage gap, AND, do you believe Medicaid expansion would fix this?
Senator Janet Bewley (D): Medicaid expansion will undoubtedly help address the insurance gap, it would also allow the state to bring back more of the tax dollars we send to Washington. Under Governor Evers plan, Wisconsin would recoup $1.6 billion of our federal tax dollars and increase access to health insurance for 2,800 more people in the 25th Senate District . With the increased re-imbursement rate from the federal government, $350 million dollars in general purpose revenue that we currently spend on Medicaid would be freed up to be used for other health programs.
Senator Tom Tiffany (R): Wisconsin is one of the only states to not have a “coverage gap.” Adults at or below the federal poverty line are eligible for Medicaid and those who make slightly more than the poverty line are able to purchase low-cost coverage on the exchange. Wisconsin put $200 million towards keeping these plans affordable last budget. All told, Wisconsin’s uninsured rate is one of the lowest in the country – we’re even doing better than many states who have expanded Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid would push tens of thousands of people off private insurance and into government run Medicaid. There are studies to show that this would increase costs for people on private insurance by an estimated $600 million. To put that in prospective, this is an extra $700 a year for a family of four.
Senator Patty Schachtner (D): Medicaid expansion would increase access to health care while bringing in $1.6 billion in new federal funding to invest in the health and wellbeing of Wisconsinites. In addition, accepting federal funds for Medicaid expansion will free up $324 million in state spending for other priorities like the middle-class tax cut proposed in the governor’s budget. I believe Medicaid expansion is an integral part of improving health outcomes while lowering costs to taxpayers. I hope Wisconsin joins the 36 other states in expanding Medicaid and improving access to health care.
Representative Romaine Quinn (R): Some politicians keep saying that there is a coverage gap and that taking the Medicaid expansion will help 82,000 people receive access to healthcare. This is completely misleading. Medicaid expansion does not expand coverage to more people. Of the 82,000 people being referenced, 40,000 of them already have private insurance on the exchanges with premiums as low as 18 cents a month. The other half already qualify for the same coverage and just aren’t enrolled. Pushing private payers back onto the state program will underfund our healthcare facilities. Medicaid only reimburses hospitals 60% of their cost, which means hospitals will lose money on people who were previously reimbursing at a much higher rate. That would force hospitals to charge insured people even more for services in order to make up the difference. Patients on Medicaid have poorer healthcare outcomes than those on private insurance. Wisconsin’s healthcare system and uninsured rate are already better than most other states that took the Medicaid expansion. Taking people off of a system that the federal government pays 100% and putting them back on a system that has cost sharing with the state opens up taxpayers to risk in the future if the federal government doesn’t live up to its promises.
Representative Nick Milroy (D): Medicaid expansion is tremendously important to the people of our region. Far too often we go without health care services that are available in other parts of the state. We need this federal money to improve the reimbursement rates that have kept so many providers from offering services in northern Wisconsin. Where you live shouldn't determine whether dentists, mental health professionals, personal care workers, or recovery clinics offer services.
Representative Gae Magnafici (R): Wisconsin does not have a coverage gap. Every Wisconsin resident has access to insurance, and those who would be “newly eligible” for Medicaid under the expansion have access to heavily subsidized health insurance plans on the private marketplace. With the Medicaid reimbursement rate as low as it currently is, I cannot support Medicaid expansion because of the additional costs that would be shifted to the private insurance market.
DrydenWire.com: The Governor authorized the Stewardship Program for an additional two years, but many conservation groups are asking for a ten year reauthorization. Do you support the Governor’s plan?
Senator Janet Bewley (D): I understand why Governor Evers has only called for a two year authorization as opposed to ten. Although the Stewardship Program has been very popular with the public and the forestry sector over the years, it has been a target for elimination by some members of the legislature. I will continue to advocate for this important environmental program and look forward to working with the bipartisan group of legislators that have supported re-authorization, both for the short term and the long term.
Senator Tom Tiffany (R): I do agree with the Governor that the stewardship program does need to be looked at before authorizing an additional ten years. I think it is easy to recognize some of the public benefit the stewardship program has created, but the total cost of the program is often overlooked. Currently, the DNR has either purchased or protected 1.8 million acres of land and the debt currently owed is $795 million. We will pay $68 million this fiscal year and $69 million next year just on debt service. If we reauthorize for another ten years, we will add an estimated $533 million in additional debt. I think we really need to think about our priorities before we saddle ourselves with so much debt.
Senator Patty Schachtner (D): I support efforts to fully renew the Stewardship Program. I am willing to work with the administration and my legislative colleagues on ways to protect our public lands and natural resources.
Representative Romaine Quinn (R): The Stewardship program increases access to public lands for all outdoor enthusiasts and is also vital for our forest industry. While I support the Stewardship program as a whole, we cannot continue to ignore the financial realities of the program. There is so much Stewardship debt right now that the state is paying $500,000 a week in interest alone. If we shut the program down tomorrow it would still take until 2039 to pay off our bonds. I believe the right solution would be to lower the amount the program is allowed to borrow and pay for more of the land purchases up front. We can’t continue down the road we are on.
Representative Nick Milroy (D): The Stewardship Program is a critical component of our forest products industry. It also contributes greatly to our tourism economy. Nowhere in Wisconsin has benefited more from this program than us. I strongly support reauthorizing this program for another 10 years.
DrydenWire.com: Governor Evers calls for eliminating work requirements for welfare. Is this something you support, or should those requirements be left in?
Senator Janet Bewley (D): What people refer to as welfare is really six programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income, Earned Income Tax Credit, and Housing Assistance. Governor Evers specifically called for a removal of work requirements for families utilizing SNAP and Medicaid. We all want to see more individuals enter the workforce so they can earn a living wage for themselves and their families, but it isn’t clear that the work requirements lead to that outcome. Other states that have implemented similar work requirements have seen reductions in the number of people using those programs but also an increase in uninsured. And one study found that for every five individuals who stopped receiving SNAP benefits as the result of work requirements only one additional individual became employed.
Senator Tom Tiffany (R): I think the requirements should be left alone. A few years ago the problem facing the workforce was that there was not enough opportunity. Today, the complaint I hear most often is that there is not enough workforce to fill open positions. It seems fair to encourage individuals who need assistance to work if they are able, or at the very least search for work.
Senator Patty Schachtner (D): I support evidence-based policies to help families succeed and communities grow. Wisconsinites are working harder than ever but still finding it hard to get ahead. We need to invest in broadband expansion, accessible health care, and Main Street communities to ensure that opportunity exists across Wisconsin – that begins with empowering people.
A 2017 Department of Health Services publication showed that 43 percent of food assistance beneficiaries were children. The publication further showed that 46 percent of households receiving food assistance contained an individual who was elderly, blind, or disabled.
When we create policy, it is important to reflect on who is being impacted. The fact is that people are struggling despite having a job. Many families receiving food assistance already have an adult that is working. Others receiving assistance are physically or mentally unable to work. It is important that we practice evidence-based policies and use existing data to ensure that we are creating an environment that will help people and communities thrive.
Representative Romaine Quinn (R): I don’t remember the Governor ever campaigning on the idea that people shouldn’t even have to look for work if they are on welfare. We already have exemptions in place for people who are elderly, disabled, or that have small children. If you don’t fall into that category, there’s no reason you shouldn’t at least be looking for work (you don’t get kicked off if you can’t find a job). These requirements should absolutely be left in place.
Representative Nick Milroy (D): Many welfare benefits are designed to help children and disabled adults that may not be capable of providing a minimal quality of life through steady employment. We need to make sure that we are getting people workforce training and placement in jobs where people earn enough to support themselves. No one should have to work a full-time job and have to rely on government assistance. This amounts to corporate welfare and taxpayers should not be subsidizing low wage jobs.
Representative Gae Magnafici (R): I do not support eliminating work requirements for welfare. Welfare should be a means to help people get back on their feet, not a government handout. I feel that work requirements for welfare are an important part of the process for getting people back to the point of supporting themselves. Every business I talk to in my district talks about the shortage of workers in northwest Wisconsin, and the difficulty they have keeping their businesses staffed. There is no shortage of jobs in Polk, Burnett, and St. Croix counties, and requiring mentally and physically capable welfare recipients to work is a benefit to both the business and the employee as they work toward a better life.
DrydenWire.com: What must a budget include to secure your vote?
Senator Janet Bewley (D): There is not one specific issue that will push me to vote either “yes” or “no”. What I want to see is a budget that embodies the priorities that the people of Wisconsin expressed when they elected Governor Evers, the ones that he campaigned on and has continued to advocate for in office, such as expanding access to healthcare, fairer funding of our public schools, and ensuring our roads and bridges are properly maintained. I will wait to see what is in the final budget the Joint Finance Committee brings before the full legislature before making up my mind.
Senator Tom Tiffany (R): The budget must be balanced and cannot raise taxes.
Senator Patty Schachtner (D): I support a budget that prioritizes people and invests in all 72 Wisconsin counties. We know that local governments are struggling with the cost of roads, foster care, and the meth epidemic. I am in support of a budget that supports our local officials and communities.
Representative Romaine Quinn (R): My first priority is making progress on issues that affect the 75th Assembly District. The meth epidemic has created greater stress on our court system and on Child Protective Services, and I have found myself educating my colleagues about the devastating impact this has had on our area. We also know that our personal health care workers are struggling; with an increasingly aging population, we need to support the workers who care for this population. And over the last three budgets, I have continued to fight to prioritize local road and school funding.
The budget is the largest bill we vote on, and contains provisions on everything the state touches. Despite this, there are rarely any silver-bullet cures for issues. It’s about making sure we keep taking steps in the right direction. I could not vote for a budget that moves backwards on any of the priorities our district has: our state is in a strong position to keep moving forward, and I have no doubt this budget will continue that progress.
Representative Nick Milroy (D): I will only vote for a balanced budget that adequately meets the needs of our region without being overly burdensome to the taxpayers.
Representative Gae Magnafici (R): No structural deficits and no tax increases!