Local legislators discuss the recently passed state budget, mental health issues, and redistricting
Left to Right: Scott Rogers, the Chamber's Vice President, Governmental Affairs,
speaks with Representatives Jodi Emerson, Jesse James, and Rob Summerfield
The Chamber’s September 17 Eggs & Issues breakfast featured 3 state legislators from the Assembly who represent the Chippewa Valley. The event was in a hybrid format, with Representatives Jesse James and Rob Summerfield participating remotely and Representative Jodi Emerson in-person at the Pablo Center at the Confluence and streamed via Perigon at WIN Technology. The lawmakers discussed a few key issues important to the business community including the 2021-23 state budget, the UW- Eau Claire new science building, personal property tax, mental health priorities, and redistricting.
Business and community leaders participate in the September edition of
Eggs & Issues hosted by the Pablo Center of the Confluence
When asked about which parts of the state budget they were most concerned about or content with, Representative Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) explained how there was not enough funding for schools. She expressed, “If we want to increase our workforce, if we want to make this a state where people want to move here … we need to invest in education.” Both Representative Jesse James (R-Altoona) and Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) disagreed with Emerson, stating there was plenty allocated to schools in the budget. Rep. James mentioned that only one of the school districts within his jurisdiction received less than $1 million dollars in state grants, which still saw about a $1,000 dollar per pupil increase.
Rep. Summerfield noted that he was happy about the almost $3 billion dollars in tax decreases, compared to a possible increase of $1 billion dollars. Other things he specifically highlighted was the increase in funding for townships allocated to roads, and the PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) Grants increases for local government. Both Rep. James and Rep. Summerfield were content with the budget being signed back in July instead of being vetoed by Governor Evers.
The science building
Although the second phase of funding was not granted in the state’s 2021-23 budget, all three representatives were confident that the funding for the new UW- Eau Claire science building will be passed eventually. UW-Eau Claire's new science building will be replacing Phillips Hall on the UWEC campus and received $109 million in the state’s 2019-21 budget for the first phase in construction. Each representative is optimistic that the second phase of funding will be included in Wisconsin’s 2025-27 budget.
Personal property tax
Another big priority for the business community is the status of the personal property tax. Recently there was a stand alone bill to repeal this tax that was vetoed by the Governor. Rep. Emerson states that there is money in the budget to repeal the personal property tax and that there is bipartisan support on this issue. However, she states that there were some problems in the original bill that created some unintentional loopholes that would cost the state millions. The representatives are unified in that the personal property tax should be repealed, and both Rep. Emerson and Summerfield stated they are confident that another bill regarding this matter can get passed this session that would not have these unintended consequences.
Mental health priorities
Each lawmaker addressed the growing concern of mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rep. James emphasized the importance of the increase in beds dedicated to mental health at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls. He said, “I think that’s going to definitely help the Chippewa Valley and … the rest of the state.” Rep. James also added the importance of telehealth services, which allow for doctors appointments and consultations to occur via phone or video, and how expanding broadband in Wisconsin can positively impact mental health by making it easier to access these services. Rep. Emerson noted the addition of a social worker to the Eau Claire Police Department, and how there was between $2.5 to $5 million dollars allocated in the state budget to expand this program to other areas. She also says how being proactive on mental health issues is also needed. She says, “We need to have the beds for people. We need to have the resources … but we also need to have programs set up to help people so they never get to that crisis point to begin with.”
With the most recent census data being released late this year, there has been a big push to get redistricting completed in time for local election season, starting in November. Rep. James states that the legislature will create the map and send it to the governor to approve. If the governor vetoes the map, it will be sent to the courts to handle from there. Rep. Emerson is confident that Governor Evers will veto the map created by the legislature. Whether this will go through state or federal court is the “million dollar question” according to Rep. Emerson. Emerson also has concerns over the lack of bipartisan participation in the redistricting process and emphasized the importance of “working together from the start”. Rep. James says that he is excited to see the map the legislature creates. With the looming local elections, all three legislatures are eager to get the redistricting process completed in a timely manner.
This month also offered the first ever hybrid meeting of Eggs & Issues. Thank you to the Chamber's Creative Director, Chelsea Seckora, and the staff at the Pablo Center of the Confluence for making this event possible.
Pictured Above: Pablo Center of the Confluence Technical Staff and Chelsea Seckora
Area legislators talk mental health, education (Leader-Telegram $)
Our View: Legislators' comments on mental health encouraging (Leader-Telegram $)
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Posted by Danya Morman, Governmental Affairs Intern
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.