Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Wisconsin surges as others stumble

by Neal Kedzie - State Senator

July 14, 2011

The 2011-13 state budget and the highly contentious budget repair bill are now finally law, both of which not only provide needed reforms to state government, but also put Wisconsin in a new, and much more positive light than some of our neighboring states. In fact, as new reports and numbers show Wisconsin surging ahead on many fronts, other nearby states slip, stumble and falter on their respective paths to economic recovery. In short, Wisconsin leads as others fall behind.

After months of high drama in the Badger State, the budget repair bill (Wisconsin Act 10) goes into effect, which most notably requires state and local employees — including state lawmakers — to contribute more toward their benefits packages, specifically health insurance and retirement plans. Further, state and local units of government will no longer be required to negotiate the terms of those benefits with their employees collectively, creating more flexibility for employers in determining compensation packages.

Finally, represented employees will no longer be required to pay union dues, and could even opt out of the union altogether. Wisconsin took the lead on this issue several months ago, and many other states are starting to follow our lead.

The biennial state budget also had its share of theatrics and antics, but in the end, the Legislature completed its work on time and delivered a budget which not only erases the deficit, but actually creates a surplus of more than $300 million by the end of the budget cycle.

That was no small task considering this Governor and Legislature did not have the luxury of one-time federal stimulus dollars to plug the budget deficit hole, nor did they increase corporate and individual taxes as the previous Governor and Legislature had done. Government has lived outside its means for far too long, but this budget reins in spending while providing municipalities and school districts the measures they will need in order to offset spending reductions by the state.

Again, Wisconsin is leading while other states either fall behind, or look to our state for solutions to their budget problems. The troubles in Illinois are well-documented, as officials search for ways to balance the budget and pay for billions in outstanding spending obligations. But Illinois is not having much success, as higher taxes and deferred payments could only make matters worse, as their economy continues to struggle.

Illinois is taking a page out of the Wisconsin budget playbook from a few years ago, but we know increased taxes and IOUs are a recipe for economic instability. Of course, no one wishes to see a neighboring state falter, but the decisions being made in Illinois could be a huge loss for Illinois, and a significant gain for Wisconsin.

While it may not be getting as much attention as Illinois, the state of Minnesota also finds itself in dire straits, as budget negotiations have come to a halt, leaving government in that state in shutdown mode.

Minnesota and Wisconsin are often thought of as "sister states", as they share many similarities in population, cultural characteristics, natural resources, and politics. But unlike Wisconsin, the Minnesota Governor proposed raising taxes as a key component to deal with the budget shortfall, an idea quickly rejected by the Legislature. Thus, Minnesota now finds itself in a tenuous budget situation, one which will impact its residents as state agencies and services go dormant. Wisconsin government, on the other hand, is open for business.

In the last few weeks, this Governor and Legislature have laid the foundation for a more efficient and effective government, and the effort is getting noticed not only across the region, but the nation as a whole.

Most states are facing huge budget deficits and many leaders in those states — both Republican and Democrat — are following the Wisconsin model to some extent, if not step by step. The bottom line is to create a government which can produce a balanced budget, keep spending in line with taxpayers ability to pay, and reward success rather than punish it. In Wisconsin, we are once again leading, and certainly welcome any other state wishing to follow.

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 on-line at