Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag told the powerful state Joint Finance Committee on Friday he is encouraged by proposals in Gov. Tony Evers’ 2019-21 state budget plan.

Freitag spoke at the committee’s first public hearing on the governor’s budget at the Pontiac Convention Center. Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore told a Gazette reporter about 250 people were inside the center when the hearing began at 10 a.m.

Friday’s hearing was the first of four the budget-writing committee is hosting across the state this month. The others will be in Oak Creek, River Falls and Green Bay.

The committee is tasked with editing and amending Evers’ budget before it heads to the Legislature. It then will go back to Evers for final approval.

Freitag told the committee the city supports Evers’ proposal to increase county and municipal aid by 2%, saying the boost could give the city another $115,000 in shared revenue.

But he said the proposal “does not go far enough.”

Eighty-three percent of the city’s revenue stream comes from property taxes or shared revenue, Freitag said, and Janesville is last among its 15 peer communities in its ability to generate revenue.

Freitag also praised Evers’ proposal to allow counties and municipalities to raise their levy limits by 2% regardless of net new construction, an idea that Rock County Administrator Josh Smith likewise has supported.

Janesville’s net new construction rarely outpaces inflation, Freitag said, and the cumulative negative effect of levy limit restrictions over time is insurmountable.

“Why are municipalities penalized for bringing jobs to our communities and growing?” Freitag asked the committee.

Smith also addressed the committee Friday, touting Rock County’s Ground Water Nitrate Work Group. He lauded the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality and Evers’ call to make 2019 the year of clean drinking water.

Smith said the opioid epidemic continues to disproportionately affect area children. In the last five years, he said, the number of children in out-of-home placement has doubled, and Rock County’s contribution to child welfare has increased by 70%.

Evers has proposed a $15 million hike in the Children and Family Aids allocation.

State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, is vice chairwoman of the committee. State Reps. Deb Kolste of Janesville, Don Vruwink of Milton and Mark Spreitzer of Beloit and state Sen. Janis Ringhand of Evansville—all Democrats—also attended the hearing.

At noon, Ringhand and Spreitzer joined a press conference held by Citizen Action of Wisconsin outside the convention center. They urged the committee to accept more federal Medicaid dollars to expand BadgerCare Plus, which Evers has proposed in his budget.

That would save the state about $324 million, they said.

“This is not a partisan issue. It’s not Democratic or Republican, and we just need to adopt the expansion because it greatly benefits all of our citizens,” Ringhand said.

In an interview with The Gazette, Loudenbeck said Evers’ proposal allowing local governments to raise their levy limits by 2% would have trouble gaining traction in the Legislature.

The tax increases will start adding up, she said, and residents generally have been satisfied with declining taxes over the past six years.

She said she is “skeptical” about expanding Medicaid but said the state should look at raising Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers.

Loudenbeck praised the Janesville community Friday, saying the introductions from city and county officials to the committee were welcoming, and she applauded the turnout.

Some of the budget proposals supported by speakers Friday included:

  • Accepting more Medicaid dollars.
  • Establishing an Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy.
  • Allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses.
  • Increasing education funding.

Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson was one of the last people to speak around 5:45 p.m. He told the committee there is a “serious lack of treatment locally” for drug addiction, particularly inpatient treatment.

He also said the state should look at temporary housing for people being released from custody.

In an interview after the event, Kolste echoed Loudenbeck, saying the event was “fabulous” and well-run.

“It think it’s important to showcase Janesville, and I thought we did that well,” Kolste said. “It was fun. Long day.”