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Rep. Brett Davis: Loooking back at '07 achievements
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As the new year begins, it is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the past year and set goals for the next 12 months.

Much of 2007 revolved around a heated debate over the direction that the new state budget would take. Although I was frustrated and disappointed with how long it took the Assembly and Senate to come together on a final compromise, I was pleased that Wisconsin residents were able to participate in a serious debate regarding our priorities.

This was a healthy debate that had most Wisconsinites asking questions about our state's tax burden and the role government should play in our everyday lives. As with any compromise, everyone didn't get exactly what they wanted. In the end, I supported the budget compromise because it lives within the taxpayers' means, which was one of my goals since the beginning of the budget process. We were able to keep government spending lower than growth in personal income, so government doesn't grow faster than your family's ability to pay for it. Yet, while controlling state spending, we approved a budget that invested in health care, economic development and education.

TAXES, SPENDING AND BUDGETING The property tax freeze, which has helped lower property taxes, was extended for another two years under the budget approved by the Legislature at the same 2 percent-plus new growth as prior years. Governor Doyle vetoed the provision to 3.86 percent plus new growth in the first year of the state budget.

We were successful in enacting more than $188 million in tax cuts and credits ranging from income tax deductions for child care expenses and health insurance premiums paid by employees, to a state income tax exemption on retirement/pension income for seniors age 65 and older.

These tax cuts will allow Wisconsin families and businesses to keep more of their hard-earned money and grow our economy. The budget compromise also cuts the state's structural deficit nearly in half, and is now at its lowest point in 12 years.


I was encouraged by a recent report by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR), which painted a positive picture for the future of Wisconsin's economy, despite national weaknesses. By eliminating 98 percent of the tax increases proposed by Governor Doyle and the Senate Democrats, we avoided the largest state tax increase in the history of the United States, which would have negatively impacted our state's economy.

To grow our economy and create higher-paying jobs, we invested in our workforce. The budget compromise included a $3 million increase in a worker-training program that connects small business employees to job skills training.

We also passed measures that: help improve our agriculture economy through the dairy manufacturing facility tax credit; provide significant increases in student financial aid; and fund the "Growth Agenda" for the University of Wisconsin System.


Between 2003 and 2006, 90.6 percent of Wisconsinites had health insurance, putting our state fourth best in the nation for the number of individuals with insurance and placing us well above the national average of 84.7 percent coverage. Thanks to the recent enactment of the state's next two-year budget, we will increase that number to 98 percent through the passage of BadgerCare Plus, which provides health coverage to our most vulnerable citizens. Access to affordable health care is one of the most pressing issues facing families 80th District and across Wisconsin, and I'm proud that our state will continue to be a leader on health care.

However, the primary concern of many families remains the ever-increasing out-of-pocket cost. To help with the rising cost of health care, we made health insurance premiums paid by employees and their families tax-deductible. When fully implemented, this new tax deduction will keep an extra $150 million a year in the pockets of Wisconsin families.

We also protected more than 100,000 of our state's seniors by fully-funding the state's landmark SeniorCare program, which provides low-cost prescription drugs that seniors need. Earlier this year, it did not appear as though SeniorCare would get the continued support from the federal government. Fortunately, legislators from both sides of the aisle working in conjunction with the state's Congressional delegation were able to convince the bureaucrats in Washington to continue to provide the funding necessary to keep SeniorCare in place.

Finally, technology is offering new opportunities for families to better see the real information on the cost and quality of health care. To accelerate the transition to the 21st Century, we successfully created an Electronic Medical Records Tax Credit, which would provide over $84.5 million in investment assistance over the next decade.


In 2007 we invested in K-12 education at a historic level. Our total K-12 education funding in Wisconsin is $12.3 billion, an increase of more than $524.8 million over the biennium, making this the largest single expenditure in the state budget. In fact, over 40 percent of our state general purpose tax dollars will be invested in our public school students over the next two years. We also helped rural school districts that are facing declining enrollment and increased funding for special education and a program devoted to reducing class sizes.


Both parties came together to reauthorize the popular Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program through 2020 and increased the fund's bonding authority to keep up with the increasing cost of land. We also invested in energy independence by providing $22 million to support Wisconsin's renewable energy efforts, the largest amount of funding for renewable energy programs in our state's history.

We have made significant progress in 2007 on many important issues including limiting spending, growing our economy, making health care more affordable, and investing in education. In 2008, I look forward to building upon our achievements and working together to improve our quality of life in Wisconsin.

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