Lawmakers get earful at state budget hearing
ROCK TOWNSHIP Jennifer Wenzel is a mother of three boys, and she uses Janesville city buses to get to wherever she needs to go.
“I use the bus for things that other people use their minivans for,” she told a handful of state lawmakers at Blackhawk Technical College on Wednesday.
But that system is threatened by cuts in the proposed state budget and other moves by Gov. Scott Walker.
“No one would propose to take cars or roads away. That would be ridiculous. And these proposals that would cut public transportation are just as ridiculous,” she said.
Janesville Transit Director Dave Mumma was one of several speakers who sided with Wenzel.
Mumma said Janesville could eventually see “skeleton service” and fares higher than many can afford.
Wenzel was one of dozens of people who took their budget concerns to legislators at a five-hour hearing.
Democratic legislators arranged the unofficial hearing, one of several around the state, because, they said, the official hearings were limited.
Local Republican lawmakers were invited. None appeared in the first half of the meeting.
Wenzel was in the minority among those who spoke. Most were local elected officials or administrators who objected to proposed state-aid cuts.
The audience averaged about 100 in the first 2.5 hours of the hearing. Only one person spoke in support of the budget proposal during that time.
Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said cuts in state aid might lead smaller communities to close or cut their police departments, leaving the job to sheriff’s deputies, but sheriff’s offices also are facing “severe cutbacks.”
The result could be only high-priority calls being answered and longer response times, Spoden said.
Ruth Whitehorse Burns of McFarland spoke in favor of a number of Walker’s moves.
Burns said the people who have lost their jobs and their health insurance should be weighed against the benefits that public employees get.
“You’re asking taxpayers who has to pay $1,200 a month out of pocket for their health insurance to pay more into the civil service,” she said.
“We’ve got to stop this spending now because we can’t maintain what we’ve got,” she said.
Burns said if Rock County communities need police help, they should call the Madison police, who she said had done nothing during recent demonstrations at the Capitol.
Groans and jeers broke out at that point, and someone tapped a gavel.
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, admonished the crowd, saying they should give the same respect to people they disagree with as those they agree with.
Among other speakers:
-- Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary said the state is laying off 20 percent of the assistant district attorneys statewide, effective May 8, “which means, in effect, that the Rock County District Attorney’s office will be shut down one day a week effective May 8.”
O’Leary also complained about cuts in services such as treatment for the mentally ill and drug abusers, which increases pressure on the justice system, he said.
“I’m treating mentally ill individuals with a sledge hammer by locking them up in the jail or the prisons because we can’t get someone to make sure they’re getting their medication and being treated,” O’Leary said.
-- Janesville schools Superintendent Karen Schulte asked lawmakers to fix the state school funding system, which penalizes school districts that hold back from taxing to the maximum allowed, as Janesville has done.
-- Clinton schools Superintendent Randy Refsland said his district had been fiscally conservative but now faces cutting 13 to 16 teaching positions because the “tools” that Walker has offered local governments to balance their budgets in the face of aid cuts are not working.
-- Beloit Turner schools Superintendent Dennis McCarthy said the governor was balancing his budget on the backs of school employees. He said the governor offers the flexibility to impose merit pay on teachers, but “educators do not educate to get paid more. They do it because it’s their passion.”
Meanwhile, the costs of health insurance and heat go up.
“We’re in desperate times right now,” McCarthy said. “We need your help.”