Delegates returned from Madison this week without a lot promises, but they said they believe their message was getting across during the 35th annual Superior Days lobbying effort.
More than 100 people from the four northernmost counties in the state made the journey to press for issues important to the region. This year they advocated for the creation of an exposition district in Superior, improvements in Medicaid reimbursements and better access to mental health services.
“There were some hiccups and bumps in the beginning … but overall it went well,” said Douglas County Supervisor Keith Allen.
During the two-day event, delegates had the opportunity to meet with agency leaders.
Superior City Councilor Jenny Van Sickle led a large group discussion with state Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson, then with Sec. Joel Brennen of the state Department of Administration. She said the main focus of those discussions were multi-modal transportation needs in the region and the local committee formed to address transit needs in Superior.
She said the discussion with Brennan was about funding and design solutions.
“We talked about the complex configuration the City of Superior has created in partnership with the DTA to expand service,” Van Sickle said. “The DTA has dedicated a lot of time and energy into designing incremental increases ... to meet the needs of potential employees and high-wage employers. Just one of these expansions will more than double the access to quality jobs within 30 minutes for a passenger starting in the center of Superior.”
Overall, most officials seemed supportive, but the broader issues of Medicare reimbursements and access to mental health services come with the same challenges — where to get the money.
They all agreed the issues were pertinent and need to be addressed, said Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert. However, he said there seemed to be more optimism in the Capitol than there was last year.
Liebaert said he was disappointed with legislative leadership after a meeting planned with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, didn’t take place. While the delegation met with the speaker’s staff, he had hoped to meet with Vos directly.
Liebaert said he often comes away feeling like you’re “hollering into the closet” because everyone is nice and polite, but lawmakers aren't acting on issues that seem like common sense to the delegates.
Still, Liebaert wonders if additional funding for health and human services, and transportation in the last budget didn’t come from hearing what the Superior Days delegation has been saying for years about needs in the northern part of the state.
The Assembly was in session on the floor Tuesday, Feb. 11, which kept many legislators away from their offices during the lobbying push that afternoon and the banquet in the evening, Mayor Jim Paine said. However, he said another Superior Days tradition, one that hadn’t happened for years, was restored when local leaders had the opportunity to sit down with Gov. Tony Evers.
“The meeting with the governor went well,” Liebaert said.
Allen said his lobbying team had the opportunity to meet with Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, directly and she was receptive to the issues the delegates shared.
Despite walking away from this year’s effort not knowing what’s going to stick, Liebaert and Paine agreed the delegation of ordinary citizens advocating for their communities did a great job this year.
Paine said he saw encouraging signs from lawmakers that local option sales taxes for things such as local roads or the exposition district were being considered as more favorable options.
“The importance is still there,” Paine said.
Superior Days has been consistent in its effort to have regular citizens advocating for their community, and said he’s hopeful more community members will get involved when it rolls around for its 36th year.