Budget being tweaked to promote more efficient local government services

Joe Leibham • 9th Senatorial District

This week, I would like to share information on several of the items that I have worked on and are now part of the Joint Finance Committee Budget plan. My goals in offering these additions to the bill are to make government more efficient, encourage private sector job creation, provide adequate funding for government programs and reduce the tax burden placed on Wisconsin citizens.

LEAN Government Initiative- For several months, I have been working with the City of Manitowoc and various Manitowoc area businesses on a partnership model to make local units of government more efficient through the implementation of LEAN initiatives. At the state level, Governor Walker is already requiring state agencies to implement LEAN processes that will reduce waste and bureaucracy in our government. I believe it is important to encourage and support local governments in implementing LEAN initiatives as well. Therefore, I was pleased to offer a budget amendment that will provide some state assistance to encourage local units of government to work with area businesses to adopt LEAN practices.

Unemployment Special Assessment on Employers- As I have shared previously, several years ago, Wisconsin’s Unemployment Reserve Fund (the state fund that pays unemployment benefits) was insufficient to pay all claims and thus Wisconsin had to borrow federal money. The state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) must now repay the federal government the principle of this loan, along with annual interest on that borrowed money. The interest costs have been assessed on Wisconsin businesses, who have been required to pay nearly $80 million for this purpose over the past two years. Previously, I introduced legislation to appropriate state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) to fund these interest payments, which relieves employ- ers from having to worry about paying this assessment for the foreseeable future. We recognize the fact that the unemployment situation isn’t an employer issue nor an employee issue but rather a state, national, and international economic matter.

Now that JFC is considering the budget bill, I have worked to successfully include this item in the budget. On May 29th, JFC adopted a motion to make a number of changes to Wisconsin’s unemployment system that make common sense improvements to this important program to ensure the future stability of the Unemployment Reserve Fund. Chief among these changes that were approved was my amendment to provide state funds for the payment of interest due to the federal government on loans Wisconsin has taken out. This action will provide a much-needed boost to Wisconsin employers. Previously, employers were required to pay a per-employee tax or “assessment” to make these interest payments. Since that tax has now been eliminated, there will be increased incentives for our job creators to hire and retain more employees.

Wisconsin Walleye Initiative- Along with Representative Dan LeMahieu, I was happy to lead an effort on JFC to adopt a budget amendment that will provide increased state support for stocking walleye in Wisconsin lakes. Tourism is a major economic driver in Wisconsin, and outdoor recreational activities like fishing are an important component of our tourism industry. Therefore, increasing demand and in some cases reduced supply of walleye across the state is concerning. As a result, the Walleye Initiative will increase production from 60,000-120,000 walleye currently to 500,000 by 2016 by partnering with the private sector. In addition, the initiative will stock lakes with larger walleye than has happened previously so there is a greater chance the fish will reach maturity. Specific provisions of the proposal include:

• Support for capital improvements to expand state fish hatchery capacity.

• Support for operating costs of state fish hatcheries.

• A competitive grant program for private organizations to expand walleye production.

• Funding to further encourage state collaboration with the private aquaculture industry.

Given the importance of fishing to our state economy, I was happy to help bring this initiative forward which I believe will strengthen fishing opportunities in Wisconsin lakes.

These are a few of the specific initiatives I have worked to get included in the budget proposal. These amendments are consistent with my overall budget goals to encourage economic development and job growth, efficiency in government, adequate funding for government programs, and a reduction in Wisconsin’s tax burden. I have been successful in getting each of them added to the budget by JFC. However, following JFC action, the Senate and Assembly will still need to consider the budget and any amendments and Governor Walker will need to sign the bill. Therefore, changes are still possible. As the process moves forward over the next few weeks, I will continue to share updates.

Senate Bill (SB) 196 Restricting the Use of Drones

SB 196 seeks to restrict the use of drones in Wisconsin. Under the bill, a drone is defines as a powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses an aerodynamic vehicle lift, and can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely. Furthermore, the bill clarifies that no law enforcement agency may use a drone that is equipped to collect audio or video recording without obtaining a search warrant first, with limited exceptions in the case of an emergency. The bill stipulates that any person who sells, possesses, or uses a drone equipped with weapon capabilities is subject to a class H felony.

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