Signs of Hope at State Budget Hearing
Citizens attended public hearing in Whitewater and demanded legislators support a wide range of reforms.
As the weather warms up, the grass turns green and daffodils explode in a cheerful yellow riot, spirits are rising.
All over our state and our nation, people are emerging from a long hibernation, getting their vaccines, and beginning to imagine what life could be like without the oppressive weight of the pandemic and the ugly, divisive politics of the last year.
At the first of several public hearings on the state budget held by the Joint Finance Committee at the UW-Whitewater on Friday, citizens came out to cheer Gov. Tony Evers’ Badger Bounceback Budget, and to express their support for increasing funding for public schools, expanding Medicaid and making badly needed investments in infrastructure including rural broadband.
At the federal level, Biden’s first budget request, laid out on Friday, reverses Donald Trump’s cuts to domestic programs, addresses climate change with big improvements in our energy and transportation systems and tackles economic inequality. It’s an ambitious plan that envisions government as a force for good, protecting the environment and providing for human needs and the public good in ways that the private market simply cannot.
Pundits are comparing it to the New Deal. As Cecilia Rouse, the chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisors, explained to David Brooks, “The model of the past 40 years has been to rely on the private sector to carry the load, but that sector is not best suited to deliver certain public goods like workforce training and infrastructure investment. These are places where there is market failure, which creates a role for government.”
Imagine a government that works for people, and a governing philosophy that takes seriously the idea of a functional civil society, instead of assuming that our whole world should be shaped by competition among predatory profit-seekers looking for ways to make a buck.
Both state and national politics have become so calcified by extreme partisanship lately, it’s almost shocking to see citizens show up for a public hearing and speak to their hopes and aspirations for a better, fairer, more beautiful world.
But that’s what happened in Whitewater on Friday.
Teachers, administrators, and students from all over the state asked the state budget committee to honor the bipartisan commitment for the state to fund two-thirds of public school costs, to reinvest in Wisconsin’s high-quality public schools.
Deaf and blind Wisconsinites testified in favor of Evers’ proposal to improve health care for the hearing and visually impaired, including providing therapy and mental health services in American Sign Language.
Dr. Marissa Jablonski, Director of the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, explained how training the next generation of water researchers and problem solvers could make Wisconsin a global leader in water-related science, technology and economic growth — supporting the $9 million program in Evers’ budget proposal.
Advocates from the Coalition on Lead Emergency spoke about the importance of the budget’s provisions addressing lead poisoning and contamination in Wisconsin, saying, “We owe this to Wisconsin’s children,” who experience the greatest impact from lead exposure.
Advocates from the prisoner-rights group WISDOM spoke in support of Evers’ proposed criminal justice reforms, including removing 17-year-olds from the adult justice system, because kids who stay in the juvenile justice system instead of being shuttled into adult prisons are more likely to graduate high school and less likely to reoffend.
Sister Erica Jordan, a Kenosha Dominican Sister, advocated for driver licenses for the undocumented immigrants who prop up Wisconsin’s dairy industry, which generates about 11% of our state’s gross income. Restoring driver’s licenses, in addition to being fair to these workers we depend upon, would save taxpayers money and improve safety by making sure everyone on the road is licensed and insured.
We are accustomed to bitterness and partisanship in this state. What’s surprising, and encouraging, is to see how many lively, engaged citizens are determined to continue pushing for a better vision. That’s the only thing that can bring about positive change.
It’s downright hopeful.
Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.