Long term care proposals draw concern at budget hearing
Check this week's print and e-editions to read more about the testimony given at the March 23 Joint Finance Committee budget hearing and the concerns facing Wisconsin residents, schools and the environment as part of the state budget process.
Star News news editor Brian Wilson will be posting coverage from the Joint Finance Committee budget hearing in Rice Lake throughout the day.
Not surprisingly for a hearing held on a college campus, education funding has been an ongoing theme of those giving testimony. An employer who moved to Wisconsin to grow his business to its current $5 million level was concerned about the cuts to the UW System and local education. “How am I going to attract engineers if they don't know if they will be able to properly educate their children,” he said. He also expressed concern about cuts in engineering programs that would result from the proposed budget cuts.
The president of the Chippewa Valley Technical College, raised concerns about the budget cuts creating a bottleneck for economic growth in the region. He said there is a great need for trained workers with many have job offers before graduation. Budget freezes and cuts would prevent these programs to grow to allow the needed training.
“Public education is on the ropes,” said David Anderson, administrator of the Chequamegon School District calling for the committee to restore education funding in the budget.
Others spoke about the county assessment system proposed. Assessors were opposed to the consolidation noting it would greatly increase costs to over $20 a parcel from the current level of about $6 per parcel.
A group of six middle and high school students from Amery and Ellsworth called for continued state funding for FACT a statewide anti-tobacco use program targeted to young people. Others continued to oppose changes to long term care, including John Harden, a Barron County Board member who generated cheers and hearty applause from the auditorium for referring to the change as “This is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard in my life,” he said. “What this proposal is, is moronic.” He noted the program took 20 years to develop and to want to replace it 2 years was not practical.
Others spoke about the need for increased longterm funding for transportation and road building for the rural and state road system.
Funding for domestic violence support programs was also a topic from a group of administrators for domestic violence victim organizations called for a continuation of funding. “Please preserve the funding as proposed.”
During this hour of hearings members of the Joint Finance Committee received calls to include licensed midwives under the medical assistance program. There was also a call from Andy Lisak, Douglas County Administrator, urging committee members to create the option for local counties to implement a half percent sales tax for highway use. “County highways are the backbone of the transportation network,” he said, noting that their county has many more projects than what can be funded without bonding.
Other speakers were opposed to education cuts at the university and local level. Jerry Walters, administrator of CESA 11 spoke in opposition of a proposal which would make CESA membership optional for school districts. He questioned if the DPI had the staff or resources to take over the role the CESAs currently provide to member schools.
Others also were opposed to stripping positions from the DNR and the elimination of power from the Natural Resources Board.
Mary Burzynski urged the committee to restore the current language and keep court reporters under the same pool of aid that pays for judges rather than other state aids for courts. She said the move would negatively impact the courts, counties and those using the courts. “Keep current law,” she said.
The third hour of the hearing saw more calls for the continuation of of family care, ADRC and IRIS programs for long term care. Many people echoed the question of who benefits from the proposed changes especially since it did not include discussion from any of the stakeholder.
“Who will profit from these changes – the for-profit insurance companies,” said the mother of a autistic19-year-old. She noted that with families having the budget ability means that many do not spend the amount allocated which presents a significant savings in state Medicaid costs. “These need to be brought out of budget and taken into committee,” said Pamela Goodman, director of Indianhead Community Action Agency.
“Those who are going to suffer are those who are most vulnerable,” said Keith Anderson of the Barron County Board of Aging.
The second hour of hearings included appeals from students at the middle school, high school and college levels and superintendents about the need to restore categorical aid to schools as well as opposition to expansion of the voucher programs. Those speaking included Steve Kolden of Colby School District who noted the Colby School District has had to make major cuts in recent years and projected even larger cuts if the budget is passed as proposed. Also speaking were more people in support of keeping Family Care and IRIS programs which provide independence to those with medical and physical disabilities. Also the need for support of the Confluence Center project in Eau Claire. Also speaking were representatives from United Healthcare in favor of what they referred to as the "modernization" of the Family Care and long term care programs. They said the programs are provided at a local level. Others objected to the move toward statewide privatization of the program giving examples of other statewide consolidations which have failed. One speaker asked the legislators if they were proud of the budget as proposed.
The first hour of the budget hearing has included comments from the severely disabled for continuation of IRIS and healthcare programs for seniors and the disabled, calls for maintenance or increased funding for schools and reform of the criminal justice system in specific to the "old law" inmates who were convicted prior to truth in sentencing.
Prior to the start of the hearing members of the Joint Finance Committee met with media representatives about what to expect at the hearing. Chairperson Nygren said he expected to hear more of the same about cuts proposed in the governor''s budget. He noted that at this point the budget proposal is the governor's budget and by the time the legislature is finished it will be the legislative proposal. He said in every budget he has been part of, there have been changes made as a result of the hearings. He expected the same for this budget.
Sen. Erpenbach part of the Democratic minority on the committee, called for the removal of IRIS, SeniorCare and Family Care from the budget proposal. He noted these are fiscally neutral cuts which give no benefit for the state's bottom line, but reduce quality of life for many Wisconsin residents.