‘This is our budget’: Governor hears from Wisconsinites on what they’d like to see in 2021-2023 budget

Second of four virtual listening session draws hundreds Wednesday

MADISON, Wis. – From the environment to the economy, Wisconsin’s 2021-2023 budget will affect everyone as it maps out the future of the state.

Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes are hearing from Wisconsinites across the state through a series of virtual listening sessions.

The second of four People’s Budget sessions drew hundreds Wednesday night to gather input on three main topics: the environment, infrastructure and the economy.

In his welcome address, Evers called the budget perhaps one of the most important policy documents they have.

“That’s why these listening sessions are so important: to ensure we’re hearing from the people of Wisconsin about what you want to see in the budget,” Evers said. “Bottom line is, this isn’t my budget, this is our budget.”

He acknowledged the particularly difficult year it’s been so far.

“From recovering from an ongoing pandemic to expanding healthcare, to addressing systemic racism that’s 400 years and counting, we have a lot of work to do ahead of us,” Evers said.

Participants broke off into smaller groups to facilitate conversation surrounding the evening’s main topics.

When it came to the environment, Wisconsinites brought up concerns about clean water and PFAS contamination. In the group News 3 Now was able to follow, speakers called for funding to push toward clean, renewable energy and tackling climate change.

“As a young person, climate change is deeply concerning to me and my outlook of the future,” said Kate Beaton, an Eau Claire city council member. “As a city council member, I’m finding more and more that climate change and the impacts of climate change are making it finincially burdensome to local communities, how we’re responding to large weather events.”

Many spoke about encouraging non-car transportation like biking and walking, leading into the next topic: infrastructure.

Participants spoke about a need for more public transit options, along with expanded broadband internet to rural areas, especially with so many learning and working remotely.

“I live in the middle of nowhere and have very poor broadband connectivity,” Dunn County resident Katherine Stahl said. “I’d really like to encourage we expand that.”

When it came to the final topic, the economy, a couple speakers pushed for a raise in minimum wage, including Justin Otto, a service industry worker in Milwaukee.

“If $15 an hour on the state level can’t be guaranteed, at the very least we absolutely, absolutely need local control so Madison and Milwaukee can implement the minimum wage conditions workers desperately need to survive and hopefully thrive,” Otto said.

A thread of racial and social equity ran through many of the comments, regardless of topic.

“We know that the worst impacts of climate change as well as water policy in general — flooding, public health — all impact those who are already bearing the brunt of inequities in society,” said Kirsten Shead, the co-executive director of Milwaukee Water Commons. She suggested the formation of a State Office of Environmental Justice.

Anyone who didn’t get a chance to voice their opinions can submit them online here. The next listening session, which focuses on criminal justice reform, is Tuesday at 6 p.m. Those interested can register here.