Superior Days in MadisonWhen citizen lobbyists hit Madison this week, funding for schools and local government, and the Northland’s economy will be foremost on the agenda.
By: By Shelley Nelson and Jessica Hamilton/Superior Telegram, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
When citizen lobbyists hit Madison this week, funding for schools and local government, and the Northland’s economy will be foremost on the agenda.
Specifically, Superior Days delegates are seeking legislative support for fair funding for educational institutions that serve students from pre-kindergarten to college graduates and fully funded shared revenue; and a study and plan for expansion of U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes.
Also on the agenda is a controversial mining bill and timely adoption of mining and reclamation legislation that safeguards the environment and provides economic benefit for citizens.
Funding education, government
If state shared revenue had remained fully funded over the last two decades, the additional revenue the city of Superior would receive annually would fully fund the Superior Fire Department, according to Finance Director Jean Vito.
Without cuts in the program and with cost of living adjustments, Vito said the city would be receiving about $3.7 million more than it does today.
Shared revenue made up about 40 percent of the city’s annual budget. Today, it accounts for only 29 percent of the city’s budget.
The loss in state funding means the city has to find other sources to pay for city services.
“The trends are moving in the wrong direction,” Vito said. “… Our hands are tied when it comes to balancing our budget.”
During the last budget session, the city was talking about browning out fire halls to make ends meet.
Local government isn’t the only place cuts in state funding have had an impact.
Pre-kindergarten-12 education and technical colleges or universities in the UW system have all faced cuts over the last several years.
“From UW-Superior’s perspective, the campus is very unique,” said Tom Fennessey of the University of Wisconsin-Superior. “We’re the only four-year campus north of (Highway) 29, so we cover a large portion of northern Wisconsin and we have a number of unique programs here.”
Over the last several years, funding for education has taken many millions in cuts affecting elementary and secondary education, and post-secondary education in the state’s technical colleges and UW System.
“If we’re not meeting the mission of this campus, we’re really not doing northern Wisconsin any good,” Fennessey said. He said further cuts could be devastating.
U.S. Highway 2
Counties east of Douglas County are looking this direction as once again they seek funding for a study and plan that would expand U.S. Highway 2, the northernmost highway in Wisconsin running east to west between Michigan and Minnesota.
After all, it took more than a decade, but Douglas County was successful in convincing state legislators that a four-lane highway to Superior was essential to the region’s economy.
“We need all of you who have experience in giving that message to the legislature, to give it for U.S. Highway 2,” said Scottie Sandstrom, executive director of the Bayfield County Economic Development Corp. “By expanding Highway 2, it will bring more economic development in the northern tier here.”
With truck drivers using U.S. Highway 2 as a route around Lake Superior, expansion would also enhance safety for all drivers on the highway, Sandstrom said.
Mining legislation is causing a rift among the usually united Superior Days delegates.
Any issue brought to Superior Days in the past quarter century has had to uphold two main tenets: It should be chosen by consensus and presented to lawmakers in Madison on a unified front. Some delegates think the mining issue fails on both fronts.
Bayfield Mayor Larry MacDonald says this could cause opposition between those who will be lobbying the issue next week in Madison.
“That’s going to be more difficult for some folks to do this time because they are being asked to support a legislative issue that they don’t support,” MacDonald said.
Ashland City Councilor Kelly Westlund doesn’t think the issues about mining that are scheduled to be discussed at Superior Days has consensus among delegates.
“The problem that I have is that this has been an extremely contentious issue, and I don’t think that there is a consensus in our community,” Westlund said. “And I think that Superior Days, in presenting the issue as it is written, is overstepping that boundary that we have in representing the best interest of the people that live in this community.”
But Douglas County Chamber of Commerce President Dave Minor says the issue has gone through the process the same as all other Superior Days issues.
“Anybody who is opposed to it could have stepped forward anywhere along the line or been part of that process to say they didn’t want it, basically, you know, waiting until the end of process to say that this is something that we don’t want to see brought down,” he said.