Kedzie (click for larger version)
December 28, 2011 | 07:33 AMWithout question, 2011 has been quite a year for Wisconsin state government. Significant and necessary reforms have been implemented to effectively change the manner in which state and local governments operate, putting Wisconsin in the national spotlight time and again.
These reforms have reshaped Wisconsin government, as the governor and Legislature worked towards a mutual goal of restoring fiscal stability in the budget, improving the state's image for job creation, and acting on long-standing legislative issues. These are some of the accomplishments and highlights of the session this past year:
A Balanced Budget
We enacted a balanced budget without raising taxes that protects core funding for many vital state programs. According to the Legislature's nonpartisan Fiscal Bureau, the 2011-13 state budget eliminated the $3.6 billion budget deficit inherited from the previous Administration and nearly wiped out the entire structural deficit.
The budget even preserves and protects core services to the elderly, disabled and sick by fully funding the SeniorCare prescription drug program and increasing medical assistance funding by $1.2 billion.
Reforms That Work
The budget repair bill enacted this year created reforms that require state and local employees — including elected officials — to contribute more to their state health care insurance premiums and retirement plans.
Collective bargaining conditions are also limited, while keeping civil service protections intact. The reforms are working: school districts now have more options to control their budgets, Wisconsin schools are able to maintain course curriculum and extracurricular activities, while homeowners are seeing real property tax relief.
Paying Off Old Debts
This session, the Legislature paid the $235 million owed to the Injured Patients and Families Compensation fund which was raided by the previous administration. The Supreme Court found the raid was illegal and directed the state to repay the fund. Additionally, we paid the $60 million owed to Minnesota through the Wisconsin-Minnesota tuition reciprocity deal, which the previous administration postponed for years.
A Permanent Property Tax Freeze
For the first time in state history, Wisconsin has a permanent property tax freeze in place. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, property taxes declined statewide by $47 million for K-12 schools, which equals a 1 percent decrease on the school tax portion of the average property tax bill. This is significant, as this is only the second time the total school tax levy has decreased since 1996.
More Difficult to Raise Taxes
Legislation was enacted which requires a two-thirds "super-majority" vote of the Legislature in order to raise taxes.
Wisconsin passed a long-awaited concealed carry bill, which created a process for law-abiding citizens to obtain a license to carry a weapon while concealed. In doing so, Wisconsin became the 49th state to allow citizens to protect themselves from harm, and carry a firearm in whichever manner they prefer.
Photo ID For Voting
Legislation was enacted that requires certain identification in order to vote at a polling place or obtain an absentee ballot. Wisconsin now joins 30 other states which require some type of identification in order to vote.
Health Savings Accounts. Individuals who make contributions to a health savings account (HSA) are now eligible to receive a state income tax credit. HSAs are a tool that many small employers and their employees use in helping to make health insurance more affordable.
The End of Earn-a-Buck. Hunters everywhere were thrilled to see the end of the Earn-a-Buck program. Established in 1996, the program required those holding a deer hunting license to harvest an antlerless deer before taking an antlered deer. Basically, hunters needed to earn their right to harvest a prized buck, which many regarded as a disincentive to hunt.
Even through some of the most tumultuous times many of us can remember, we stayed the course and made good on many of the issues the electorate asked us to finally address. The decisions made over the last year have not been easy, but we have a duty and responsibility to make those tough decisions in order to maintain economic stability in Wisconsin and its state government. As we head into 2012, we know there is much more that needs to be done, and I look forward to the challenge ahead.
Have a safe and enjoyable New Year.
Sen. Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free 1 (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com.