Wisconsinites from different backgrounds and professions are lining up to voice their concerns about the state’s budget. The Joint Finance Committee is holding four hearings throughout the state, giving the public a chance to give recommendations, support, or criticisms of the proposal.
People packed into Oak Creek Community Center Wednesday morning for the second of four public hearings on the state’s biennial budget. Groups like AARP Wisconsin, Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), and 9to5 Wisconsin, were a few of the many organizations in attendance.
They were there to talk about where they think the state’s budget money could best be spent.
Lamont Moore is a youth organizer for Leaders Igniting Transformation. Members of the group were there to bring attention to the lack of funding in Milwaukee Public Schools.
“We’ve seen over the last couple biennial budgets that the budget for MPS specifically has continued to be cut or slashed and definitely underfunded, so we want to get more funding for MPS youth and students," Moore says.
Education was one of the common themes at the hearing. Several people spoke about the importance of funding special education, including Andrew Chromy, the chief business and finance officer for the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District.
“Special education funding at the state level has not increased in 10 years. It currently funds approximately 25 percent of all special education costs statewide," he says. "An increase in special education expense reimbursement from the state would have a significant impact on our population of special education students by allowing us to provide additional resources in the form of licensed educators and paraprofessionals to work with some of our most needy students.”
The proposed budget does include a $600 million increase in special education funding.
Several speakers brought up restoring driver’s licenses for undocumented people. Others highlighted the need for increased, living wages, and the need for increased staffing in the health care industry.
Concerns about the criminal justice system in Wisconsin came up as well. Talk about providing better resources for people coming out of prison and returning to their communities, came from Corey Prince.
“When I was in prison, I was told often to just get a job when I get out. Unfortunately, it was not as easy as that. There are no programs for re-entry, and minimal resources that have been dedicated to re-entry,” says Prince, the vice president of the NAACP chapter in Racine.
Prince calls on the Legislature to put more money in the budget toward re-entry programs.
In addition, members of Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO) introduced an argument they’ve had for a while -- closing the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility in downtown Milwaukee.
Critics say the conditions are inhumane for the people there. Sylvester Jackson was in the facility in 2017.
“I was diagnosed by the Department of Corrections with sleep apnea, and when I was taken in there and informed the medical staff that I need a CPAP machine, I was denied. Not once, not twice, but on all three occasions … even though they know the denial could possibly cause me to die in my sleep. It was more of the price of a machine than my life.” he explains.
Jackson says the current budget proposal includes funding for improving ventilation at the facility. But, he says, that doesn’t change what he calls the atrocities that happen there.
The next public hearing will be at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls next week.