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Legislature must move quickly to approve new state budget

As Madison politicians fiddle, school budgets across Wisconsin are burning.

With just over 60 days until the start of the state’s fiscal year, the legislature needs to move quickly to finalize a state budget and let local units of government know what to expect in shared revenues and other state aids.

The state cannot act fast enough when it comes to setting school funding for the coming budget. Schools operate on the same July 1 to June 30 budget year as the state and school officials have been hard at work for months to bring their budgets into balance.

With nothing but platitudes and empty promises coming out of the state legislature, school boards are building budgets on worst-case scenarios and two more years of the status quo scrambling for crumbs. For some districts this means delaying opportunities to improve educational experiences. For others it means further gutting of staffs and cuts to services.

Budgeting is about making tough choices to get the greatest benefit from the resources available. Two years ago the state legislature chose not to include funding increases for schools and instead directed districts across the state to use one-time federal grant money to make up budget shortfalls. Back-filling budgets with one-time grant funds is a recipe for long-term fiscal disaster and that is exactly the situation many districts across the region and state are finding themselves in.

As districts hurtle toward the fiscal cliff, it is anyone’s guess what, if anything, the state legislature will do to keep districts from going over. It is unclear if people within the state legislature have any idea what to do.

As the state government continues to sit on an obscenely large $8 billion surplus, there are those who favor following the flat tax fantasy and calls for tax reform. A better option than squandering the surplus to subsidize the lifestyles of millionaires, would be to direct more funds to schools and local governments to help fund basic operations.

The legislature must move quickly to approve a new biennial budget that increases school, county and municipal shared revenues and aid payments. Beyond just numbers in a ledger, the budget choices schools are being forced to make impact families directly either through direct cuts or delays in filling needed positions. If the legislature waits until the absolute deadline, or drags out the budget process beyond the statutory timeline, any increase in funding could end up being too little, too late.

Contact Rep. James Edming and Sen. Cory Tomczyk and urge them to put pressure on their caucus leadership to put the needs of Wisconsin schools and local governments ahead of party politics and pass a budget that ensures Wisconsin remains strong for decades to come.

Members of The Star News editorial board include Publisher Carol O’Leary, General Manager Kris O’Leary and News Editor Brian Wilson.