Local groups weigh in on Walker’s spending plan

Let the fight for funding begin.
Local groups weigh in on Walker’s spending plan

State lawmakers will be scrutinizing Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 spending plan over the next few months. The more than $70 billion budget will include funds for everything from the state’s military to Medicaid programs. Four local groups weighed in on what they’d put in the budget if they could.

Lanes and Automobiles
Dave Cieslewicz may have rattled a few cages when he penned a column last September declaring “On transportation, I stand with Scott Walker.” But the former Madison mayor and current executive director of the Wisconsin Bike Federation says it’s because no one else is talking about the need to slow construction of major highways and invest in local roads. “It means that more potholes might get filled and more rural highway shoulders may get paved–good for people who ride bikes,” Cieslewicz says.

What’s Missing? A look toward the future. Automakers, ridesharing services and ideas such as self-driving cars “could change everything,” Cieslewicz says, adding that technological advances could eliminate the need for major highway expansions.

Minds Over Matter
The Department of Corrections requested funding for more staff to deal with mental health issues inside the state’s prisons. Shel Gross with Mental Health America of Wisconsin says his organization has consistently advocated for that, especially given what he calls “underlying issues” that led to abuses at the Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake youth prisons.

What’s Missing? Funding for intervention. Gross says he would like to see aid go toward improved mental health services for the deaf, suicide prevention and expansion of the Child Psychiatry Consultation program.

Hope for Heroin Abuse
Attorney General Brad Schimel focused on heroin and drug abuse issues in the letter he sent with his budget request to the governor. “This drug epidemic has become a full blown public health crisis,” Schimel wrote. Skye Tikkanen, manager of the Safe Communities Madison Dane County Drug Poisoning Prevention Program, agrees. Schimel is asking for an additional $2 million per year over the next two years for Treatment Alternatives and Diversion program grants that help create county courts to handle offenders who deal with substance abuse and addiction issues.

What’s Missing? Funding for recovery programs. Tikkanen says Dane County has piloted worthy projects, such as the Parent Addiction Network, which has created resources for families, and the “ED to Recovery” project, which puts “recovery coaches” in emergency rooms to properly refer patients for treatment.

Surviving Sexual Assault
This year’s request from the Department of Children and Families includes $12.4 million to comply with a new law that requires child welfare agencies to investigate possible cases of child sex trafficking and give to victims services, treatment and housing. The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault testified in favor of this bill last year and its policy coordinator, Dominic Holt, says it’s a step forward.

What’s Missing? Support for increased staff. Holt is asking for $5.88 million per year for the Sexual Assault Victim Services grant program (an increase of $3.78 million) that provides prevention and survivor services in every county. That would pay for three-and-a-half positions in Dane County alone. Current funding levels “do not even touch five counties,” Holt said.

The Thin Blue Line
The state Department of Justice budget asks for $1.5 million to create a reimbursement program for local law enforcement for “high-demand specialized training.” Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, calls it critically important. “As law enforcement officers across the state are continuously expected to do more with less, there is an increasing demand for training like that related to mental health and crisis intervention,” Palmer says.

What’s Missing? More positions to investigate officer-related deaths. Palmer says DOJ is the primary agency that has investigated police shootings since the state passed the independent investigation law in 2014, and the caseload lengthens the time to complete investigation. “We believe DOJ does an outstanding job conducting these outside reviews, but we are also concerned that more agencies will modify their critical incident policies in favor of another agency that may be able to do it more quickly,” Palmer says