The State Legislature’s budget writing committee, the Joint Committee on Finance, continued its work this week in making modifications to the Governor’s budget proposal. Following several public hearings around the state on the budget in March, the Committee began voting on changes to the budget bill in April and is anticipated to finish its work on the budget in the coming days.
This week the Committee took up two significant portions of the budget, education funding and SeniorCare. The Committee received a significant amount of input at the public hearings on these two issues. In addition to the testimony provided at the public hearings, I have heard from many area residents who also expressed concern over these and other provisions in the Governor’s budget bill. As a member of the Committee, I am pleased that we were able to make positive changes and address concerns raised by the public.
SeniorCare is a valued program for many seniors in western Wisconsin and across the state and provides access to affordable prescription medications. This program, which was created prior to the federal Medicare Part D program, is a cost-effective and simpler alternative that saves dollars for both seniors and taxpayers. In action taken this week, the Committee voted to remove changes to SeniorCare that were proposed by the Governor that would have required seniors to apply for Medicare Part D in order to maintain enrollment in SeniorCare. I voted to eliminate this proposed requirement and to continue to fully fund SeniorCare.
The Committee also took up the K-12 education portion of the budget bill this week. Given the concerns with the impact that the Governor’s budget proposal would have on our local schools I am pleased that we were able to eliminate the proposed reduction in aid in the first year of the budget and to provide an increase of $100 per pupil in the second year of the biennium. Despite the limited revenue available, we reaffirmed our commitment to schools by providing nearly $200 million in additional funding above the current budget proposal.
In addition to providing funding for per pupil aid, the Committee approved increases in assistance for rural school districts through increases in sparsity aid and high cost transportation aid. Also, a new program was established to provide schools with $5 million in high cost special education aid.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on the budget bill 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.