Rep. Hubler Talks Wisconsin Budget

Wisconsin State Representative Mary Hubler (Assembly District 75) addressed the Afternoon Fellowship group at First Lutheran Church in Barron, Wisconsin on October 26, 2009.

I had the pleasure of hearing Representative Hubler speak in person Monday. She is a naturally pleasant person and more appealing than her state bio picture leads one to believe. I hope she updates that photo soon.

 She began with an aside about the lack of regional transportation in northwest Wisconsin and said that she is often asked to take people to or from Madison. Many times she receives requests to take packages also. It was easy to see why she was liked by many of the attendees.

 You can read more about her committee memberships and legislative activity here.

 Monday she spoke about balancing the state budget and how this occurred. Here is what I heard:

  1. There was a state budget shortfall of $6B that needed to be addressed. The method employed was to cut costs and raise revenues. She reminded everyone that the furlough of state workers was occurring and then talked about other items:
    1. Wisconsin received about $9B in stimulus money of which some $5B was to reduce federal withholding taxes. $4B came in to fill holes in the state budget.
    2. Income taxes were raised on people earning more than $300K.
    3. The Tipping Fee was increased by $7/ton. Rep. Hubler said the fee increase means that a family of four that roughly generate  a ton of garbage annually should expect their garbage bills to rise by $7 in this next year. (She did not say that it rose from $5.90/ton to $13/ton.)
    4. The telephone fee was raised 25 cents per line (phone) per month and it was to assist in paying for police and fire protection across the state.($3/yr)
    5. Cigarette taxes were increased by 75 cents per pack and she said that Wisconsin taxes would be $2.52 per pack.  She mentioned the new law on smoking inside all public buildings that goes into effect next year. (She appeared to endorse the legislation.)
    6. Capital gains exemptions were changed. Wisconsin’s 60% exemption was changed to 30%. (Still better than surrounding states.)
    7. The Public Benefits Fee was increased $3.00 year on your electric bill.  The current fee pays for electricity for those who may have hardships next year.  The new fee will be used to pay for Assistant District Attorneys.
  2. Rep. Hubler  made some additional comments as follows:
    1. The average person in the room would see a $13 increase in their taxes as a result of these actions. (The implication was that the attendees did not smoke or have capital gains or make more than $300k per year.)
    2. Some communities may find that the local governments will raise property taxes to offset what the state has cut back upon. There may be a $94 increase in the average property tax if local governments and schools increase the levies to the maximum allowed under state law.  When you add the $7 increase in the tipping fee, the $3 phone fee and the $3 electric fee, that total would come to $107.
    3. Rep. Hubler commented that the savings rate in the US has risen from 0 to 7% in just one year as a result of the down economy.
    4. There are five main areas for state government spending: Education K-12, shared revenue, correctional facilities, shared medical care, and the University of Wisconsin. She said that government operations is not a significant line item to control compared to these five expenditures.
    5. Mandatory auto insurance next year. Wisconsin was one of two states that previously did not require auto insurance but now there is only one.
    6. In the next budget go round, one can expect to see the DNR service centers close if the economy remains flat.
    7. A consolidation of State Patrol headquarters was averted this year. The Spooner facility was almost eliminated; however, the proposal was killed. It was learned that State Patrol officers may be limited to 90 miles of driving per day. This would work in Milwaukee but not in northwest Wisconsin.
  3. Rep. Hubler made some additional comments on legislation:
    1. Oil filters in landfills, wind farm siting. The Fox River Valley/Niagara escarpment is the best area in Wisconsin.  The best sustained winds of 20 mph are in southwestern Minnesota.
    2. The moratorium on nuclear energy in the state may come under review but there are no applications for nuclear power plants now.
  4. A survey is arriving soon, designed by Rep. Hubler, to give her feedback on many issues.
  5. A Q& A session occurred:
    1. What about efforts to equalize the amount of state aid per student between schools? “Tough nut to crack”, the amount was reduced across the board this time.
    2. What was the number of bills introduced? “About 500.” Very few pass.
    3. Who can enter a bill? “Legislators only” in Wisconsin. Governor can propose but he needs to have a legislator introduce his proposals.
    4. What about unemployment benefits? “Extended more than one year now” “Awaiting federal extensions”
    5. What about foreclosures in this District compared to other Wisconsin areas? “Wisconsin lower than most states.” This District lower than Wisconsin average. Homeless shelter to be built in Rice Lake.
    6. Are there homeless families in the area living in RVs? “No”. Churches often help the homeless in this area. “A Christian thing to do”.
    7. What about asking voters about their citizenship, was told it was discriminatory? (Ed. note: there was some discussion about this. It ranged from a national database to voter registration forms. Rep. Hubler said she would inquire further.)
    8. Veteran Clinics being closed? “No”. Increased funding in VISN budgets, no clinics will close.
    9. Speed limits in local town? Rep. Hubler advised seeing local town board.
    10. What about private duty nurse pay cuts? (Ed. note: much discussion about the hourly rate being cut from $32/hr (RN rate) to $12/hr (LPN rate). A couple whose son uses a private duty nurse has been affected. Their nurse of 6 ½ years quit to seek a job before others in the same position take them all. Ruling not yet in effect. Rep. Hubler working with agency on this.

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