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Jobs, transportation issues top discussion at state budget hearing

Chuck Quirmbach Wisconsin Public Radio The state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee held a hearing Wednesday in West Allis on the state budget, and it was an eight-hour smorgasbord of citizen praise and concern. Many people focused on Gov. Sco...

Chuck Quirmbach

Wisconsin Public Radio

The state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee held a hearing Wednesday in West Allis on the state budget, and it was an eight-hour smorgasbord of citizen praise and concern.

Many people focused on Gov. Scott Walker's plan to increase state education aid by about $200 per-pupil over each of the next two years. Some want that increase to be $300 per-pupil, to make up for past education cuts.

The hearing took place as some Milwaukee corporations and Marquette University, asked state lawmakers to revive plans to expand the Interstate 94 east-west project near Miller Park. But Republican leaders are expressing doubts about the idea.

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said completing work on I-94 in Racine County (home to his district) should come first.

Joint Finance Committee member Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, said he'd like to see less congestion on the east-west freeway, but said Walker left work on the highway out of his proposed state budget. 

"There's some things we can do as legislators, there's other things we cannot do," he said. "The governor has the veto pen on the east-west. It's very difficult for us, the way the process works, to say it's going to be a priority, because we don't have the veto pen."

The coalition calling for an expansion of the I-94 east-west freeway says the "corridor is the gateway for the products and venues that make the region vibrant and healthy."

After the hearing got underway, Milwaukee County officials urged the Joint Finance Committee to allow local alternatives to sending troubled youth to the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake schools in north central Wisconsin. 

County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb said he's concerned about reports of abuse of teens at the two Department of Corrections sites. 

"Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are deeply flawed institutions," he said. "The FBI is investigating horrific allegations. The Department of Justice continues to assess whether criminal charges are warranted. Our own (Milwaukee County) Chief Judge, Maxine White visited and called the conditions there 'inhumane.'"

Lipscomb said in the proposed state budget, Walker would increase the county's fees to send youth to the two schools.

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Lipscomb urged state lawmakers to work with the county on secure, community-based juvenile justice facilities. Walker says the higher fees would help add staff and make salaries at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake more competitive.

Meanwhile, advocates for prison inmates are calling for more drug treatment dollars, and an expansion of a program that helps released inmates find a job. The Transitional Jobs program helps low-income adults deal with poverty and transportation issues while they attempt to find work. Several groups are backing the idea of raising the amount the state puts into the jobs program from about $7 million a year to $15 million.

The Rev. Willie Brisco, leader of president of MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope) said the transitional jobs program gives individuals returning from prison or who have criminal records a chance to find work.

Walker is proposing spending an additional $1 million dollars on the program. But Brisco says it's time to make up for past cuts and do much more.

Brisco and others are also calling for a large boost in spending on a Treatment Alternatives and Diversion Program that offers drug treatment to the incarcerated and others who need it. 

The next Joint Finance Committee budget hearing is Friday in Berlin.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. More WPR news is available on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

 

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