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Rep. Brett Davis: Budget shortfall highlights need to prioritize spending
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The biennial state budget process is continuing to unfold at the committee level this month, with many issues being discussed before the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) revised its revenue estimates for the state budget.

The initial reports are that the state is facing an additional tax revenue shortfall of up to $1.5 billion over the next two years. JFC decided to delay further action until more detailed reports were available. Although this grim economic news is not welcome, it should strengthen the notion that our state needs a budget that is not only fiscally responsible, but also has a plan to improve the job creation climate in our state.

Moving forward, it is important we prioritize state spending on programs that will help get our economy back on track and create jobs. One such program that is important to economic development is the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). The WTCS provides an excellent education option for our state's employers and workers. The technical colleges have been a high demand resource that gives those just entering the workforce, and those who have recently been laid off, the skills they need to make a living and raise a family.

I believe WTCS must have the tools it needs to help get our workforce back on its feet. Since 2003, state aids to WTCS totaled $118.4 million a year, without an increase. Governor Doyle's budget proposal actually cut state aids to WTCS budget by $3.37 million. The other main funding source of the Technical College System is property taxes, and a property tax increase to help foot the bill must not be an option.

Therefore, I am supportive of an option to help the WTCS handle the increase in worker training demand in the short term by allocating $35 million ($17.5 million in '09-10 and '10-11) of the federal economic stimulus funds for supplemental funding to our technical colleges. It included a clause specifying that the funding should be prioritized to high demand programs with waiting lists. Unfortunately, this option was voted down in JFC, but I am hopeful we can amend the budget at the next stage to include this option.

In addition, JFC took up the governor's proposed Regional Transit Authority (RTA) provision. In Dane County, a half-cent sales tax could be imposed to pay for commuter rail and other transit projects. The final provision that passed would allow an un-elected board to impose a 0.5 percent sales tax increase in Dane County to fund an RTA even if its voters oppose the sales tax increase in a non-binding referendum. According to the LFB, it is estimated to be an increase in the sales tax of over $20 million, or $172 per household.

Although I believe we need to discuss transportation issues and find ways to address pollution and emissions, I believe more taxpayer protections need to be included, especially for residents of Dane County that will not benefit from the proposed rail projects. As this issue moves along, I anticipate to author amendments when the budget comes to a vote before the full State Assembly.

With the state and national economy remaining weak, it is important we act at the state level to pass a state budget that will help, not hinder, our economic recovery. By prioritizing state spending to invest in programs like the Technical College System, we can give workers the continuing education tools they need to succeed when the economy rebounds. At the same time, we need to enact a fiscally responsible state budget that does not increase the already high tax burden on families.

I want to hear from you, so please feel welcome to express your thoughts or let me know if I can be helpful to you in any way by calling (888) 534-0080, e-mailing me at or by writing or stopping by 11 West, State Capitol, Madison, WI 53708.

- Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, serves the 80th Assembly District, which includes all of Green County and parts of Lafayette, Rock and Dane counties.