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Madison Opinion: Two views on the state budget
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Positives for rural families

by Rep. Travis Tranel
(R–Cuba City)

Budgets are about priorities, and as rural legislators, our priority is to make sure that our districts have the resources they need to flourish and grow.

This session, we have worked together to ensure that the state budget addresses the needs of all Wisconsinites — not just those of Madison and Milwaukee. We are happy to tell you that rural Wisconsin is being heard.

The first priority for each of us is to preserve our communities and way of life. Over the years, outward migration has negatively affected many parts of rural Wisconsin. We need to keep our friends and neighbors living and working here if our towns and villages are going to thrive. Access to employment opportunities and the educational training to prepare for the workforce must be preserved and enhanced.

To that end, we took a strong stand, joining together to write a letter to the Joint Finance Committee asking for increased school funding. Working together paid off — funding will increase by $150 per student per year over the next two years, while property tax increases will be frozen– a big win for seniors and working families.

Access to reliable Internet and transportation is also vital for businesses to thrive in rural Wisconsin. As a group, we worked with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the Joint Finance Committee to guarantee adequate funding for rural broadband and roads. In addition to the $500,000 per year that the governor had allocated for broadband expansion grants, the budget will now include a one-time allocation of $4.3 million to improve internet access for our constituents. At the same time, we were able to secure a 4-percent increase in the General Transportation Aids mileage rate to help maintain our rural road system– a solid investment in the future.

Working families are the core of our communities, and they deserve tax relief. This budget gives it to them in the form of a $651 million tax cut — one of the largest tax cuts in Wisconsin history. We were able to get this tax cut, as well as a more streamlined tax code, while still providing funding for vital programs, such as statewide domestic violence victim services, which received a $1.25 million increase.

Agriculture too was an area that we worked to improve in the budget. Responding to the concerns of numerous constituents, we worked to remove the foreign land ownership provision from the budget. Wisconsin farmland belongs to Wisconsin farmers, and we want to make sure that it stays that way for future generations. Additionally, we were able to restore the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant program, which has been of great help to small family farmers.

The budget now leaves the hands of the Joint Finance Committee and goes to the Assembly, where it will be taken up for a vote in the third week of June. We can assure you that we will continue to work with our colleagues and leadership to preserve these changes and make certain that we pass a fiscally responsible budget. This two-year spending plan sets the right priorities and protects essential services so that we can grow our rural economies and create family - supporting jobs.

There is no greater honor than representing the citizens of rural Wisconsin, and we will continue to work hard to make sure that our communities are the best places to live, work, and raise our families.

This column was also signed by Reps. Ed Brooks (R–Reedsburg), John Murtha (R–Baldwin), Warren Petryk (R–Eleva), Garey Bies (R–Sister Bay), Keith Ripp (R–Lodi), Mary Czaja (R–Irma), Kathy Bernier (R–Lake Hallie) and Mary Williams (R–Medford).


Groundwater not being protected

by Tom Quinn
Executive Director, Wisconsin Farmers Union
and Kerry Schumann
Executive Director, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters

The Joint Finance Committee slipped a hastily-crafted provision on groundwater into the budget that was intended to help farmers, but could end up doing the exact opposite.

With no public hearing, the Joint Finance Committee passed an amendment that would limit citizens’ ability to prevent neighboring water users from drawing down water supplies from nearby rivers, lakes, and streams.

The provision was designed to benefit one farm in particular:  the proposed 4,500-cow Milksource Richfield Dairy in Adams County, whose neighbors have taken legal action to ensure that the dairy’s multiple high-capacity wells do not deplete other local wells and water resources.

Unlike most laws, which only operate looking forward, this budget provision would actually go back in time and throw out the citizens’ pending case against the dairy. Maybe in this instance it would be a victory for the farm. But farms are just as likely to find themselves on the other side of the coin when it comes to disputes about water.

Take, for example, the case of the Dale and Ardis Jorgenson dairy farm in Sparta, whose well went bone dry -- and whose cows went thirsty -- when a sand mine started operating a high-capacity well on the neighboring property. In an instance like that, a farm might well want to ask the DNR to step in and protect the farm’s water resources. This budget provision would foreclose that possibility.

Clearly, as the incidents in Richfield and Sparta demonstrate, farmers can easily find themselves on either side of the access to groundwater issue. To introduce legislation like this that pits farmers against their neighbors, and pits one farmer against another, is counterproductive.  We need to have a conversation about our groundwater resources in this state, and we should do it the right way.

Legislators had already begun work on a groundwater bill when this measure got rushed into the budget, without a public hearing, testimony from groundwater experts, or even input from other legislators. We ask our neighbors to join us in urging state legislators to take this ill-advised provision out of the budget, and sit down at the table together – maybe over a nice tall glass of water -- and come up with a better solution for protecting access to water resources for all.