County officials question state legislators on budget process

YOURCOUNTY
Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

With Wisconsin’s state budget passed and signed into law, with the unlikeliness of any veto override, the last Sheboygan County Legislative breakfast took place on Monday, July 8, 2013. These monthly meetings, with area legislators and Sheboygan County supervisors and department heads, began way back in the 1960’s taking place through much of the legislative period and all of the state budget process. Started by such former leaders as Senator Ernie Keppler, Representative Carl Otte and others, has proven a valuable economic and policy tool for both area state legislators and Sheboygan County officials.

At the breakfast meeting, positive comments were given to local legislators for their efforts this session for making the budget friendlier to county government and for working with county department heads to insure new requirements on the state level were well thought out and included solid impute by the agencies affected. Along with the positive comments, there was also some tough questions raised at the meeting.

Adam Payne, Sheboygan County Administer, asked why the Wisconsin Legislative’s Joint Finance Committee pushed through so many policy items into the budget. He was especially concerned about an item the governor vetoed out of the budget that would have forced every county in the state to develop an expensive purchasing reporting system, an unfunded mandate, without providing funding or the flexibility to the counties to pay for it?

Representative Kestell, at the very start of the meeting, said he favored many things in this budget, but was one of a few Republicans who voted against it. His main concern, as he has had over the years, was that there was just too many policy items added to the budget and he felt it was not good public policy.

Fay Uraynar, newly appointed county supervisor, questioned some legislative efforts that looked more like a “war on women” when other major programs, like prisons, seem financially out of control and taking important funding away from other programs.

Sheboygan County Veteran’s Service Officer, Charlene Cobb, added her concerns about the prison/jail system. She told of a Sheboygan County veteran who was in jail for being behind on child support in another county but she was unable to get him out to a job so he could start paying his child support. She was informed it was because of some state regulations which she said was frustrating; costly to local government and costly to the family needing the child support.

This county supervisor reminded both county and state officials at the meeting that Wisconsin and Minnesota both had about 6,200 in their prison system back in about 1990. That it was a time when a whole range of “get tough on crime” bills were being passed; like “three strikes and your out” and others. Minnesota decided to work on options for its non-violent criminals, while Wisconsin went on a prison building boom to house an increasing prison population.

Looking at the research, both Minnesota and Wisconsin have similar populations. Minnesota’s prison population has grown to 9,998, while Wisconsin’s total has grown to over 23,000. Reviewing a University of Marquette Law School study, they list the cost of keeping in inmate at about $32,000/year each for Minnesota and Wisconsin at $31,500. One needs to do the math, as supervisor Uraynar suggested, to understand why prisons are hurting other Wisconsin programs.

State Senator Glenn Grothman suggested some reasons why he thought Wisconsin prison population is so much higher then Minnesota. Next week, this column will review the issue.


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