Five Budget Items the Media Has Missed
(While Bruce Murphy is on vacation, milwaukeeworld has invited some guest columnists to sound off.)
By now, everybody knows what’s in the budget right? The media have done their stories about tax policy and prescription drugs and SAGE and rent-to-owns and on and on. But with over 3000 items in a $47 billion budget, there are bound to be some stories they missed. In light of that fact, here are my top 5 budget items not yet covered by the media.
1. You Gotta Have Faith
While barrels of ink were being used up chronicling the twists and turns of President Bush’s faith-based initiative in Washington, the media largely missed the fact that the state budget contained a number of significant faith-based initiatives right here at home. The budget now in Governor McCallum‘s hands contains several major recommendations from the Legislative Council Committee on Faith-Based Approaches to Crime Prevention and Justice including; allowing faith-based groups to run rehabilitation programs in prisons, prohibiting discrimination against faith-based groups in applying for crime prevention and corrections grants, and creating two new assistant district attorney positions to conduct “restorative justice” programs.
OK let’s be fair, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did do a story or two on budget provisions requiring a countywide referendum before any light rail project could go forward and on the requirement that increased freeway capacity be part of any I-94 corridor improvement. Their stories, however, consisted largely of anti-car and pro-light rail folks whistling past the graveyard claiming that it really wasn’t a big defeat for them. Dare to dream folks. Fact is, the capacity requirements all but ensure extra lanes on I-94 and the countywide referendum requirement put the stake in the heart of light rail. Furthermore, with one simple veto Governor McCallum can drive that stake all the way through by changing the one-year ban on any state or federal transportation funds going to light rail into a permanent ban. As one talk show host screamed, “This is a huge victory” for folks who hate light rail and love their car.
3. Dressed for Success
School uniforms may be coming to a district near you thanks to a provision in this year’s budget. Across the nation, school districts that have adopted uniform policies have seen decreases in violence and gang- related activities in their schools. Unfortunately, some school districts, fearful of litigation challenging their uniform policies, have been hesitant to implement those policies in the absence of specific state authority to do so. The budget provisions give districts explicit authority to set policies and provides guidelines to follow to ensure that those policies are impervious to challenge. After three sessions of trying, where the school uniform bill made it though the state Assembly only to die in the state Senate, this budget finally gives uniforms the go ahead.
Chuck Chvala played a game of chicken on education issues that may have turned out badly for his good friends at WEAC. Early in the process, GOP conferees offered a 3 for 3 swap. Republicans would recede from their position and return to current law on four-year old kindergarten, changes in district debt limits and changes in health insurance contracts for teachers. In exchange, Democrats would return to current law on changes to the QEO, revenue cap flexibility and school choice. Chuck said no and told his WEAC allies to hang in there and he’d get them a better deal. So what did they get in the end? The debt limits and health insurance provisions were dropped, Republicans got a 100% victory on school choice, and funding for 4-year-old kindergarten was cut nearly in half. The revenue flexibility and QEO changes that were adopted make tantalizing veto bait for Governor McCallum. All told, once the governor is done with this budget, the teachers union may have gone from an even split of education issues to losing on school choice, the QEO, revenue flexibility and four-year old kindergarten!
5. One Down One to Go?
Senator Chvala made quite a show of the fact that the Midwest Express tax exemption finally made it into the budget. After being savaged for his opposition to this provision last session, he promised during his campaign and again this spring that he would support the measure this time around. True to his word, it survived the budget this time and Senator Chvala made sure everyone knew it. He wasn’t nearly so vocal, however, about his failure to follow through on another major promise he made during the campaign. Under attack for killing a bill that allowed school districts to deny employment to felons, Senator Chvala took to the stump in debates and forums to declare his support for the felons in the workplace ban and to promise that he would pass it the next time he had the chance. Well, his chance came with budget. The Assembly passed the felons in the workplace provision as part of their budget but we were unable to get Senator Chvala to agree to it at the conference table. Maybe he forgot his promise. Then again, he is a politician, maybe he figured batting .500 on keeping his word was pretty good.
This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.