Take me back” moment
“Rising between the picturesque waters of Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, the majestic granite structure of Wisconsin’s Capitol building glows like a beacon, accenting the Madison skyline.” Think back to your LGM year and the session dedicated to learning about Wisconsin’s finances in our State Capitol. Whether it was your first time or hundredth visit to the building, it is pretty amazing to spend time in the very rooms where our leaders have made, and continue to make, countless decisions about Wisconsin’s future for more than a hundred years. Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry’s presentation and exercises left many of us overwhelmed, enlightened and or depressed with the knowledge of the state’s growing deficit and a glimpse into some of the complexities involved in making decisions about state and local funding. Take a second to reflect on what you learned that day, and think about how important it is to the future success of the state to have trained leaders like you involved in our community.
It is easy to overlook the numerous times each day our actions are affected by state budget decisions. Everything from driving your car to work, using electricity to power your computer and having your garbage collected are all impacted by state spending. In April, the LGM18 class took a closer look at Wisconsin’s current budget issues and how it affects us locally. They began the session with a breathtaking view of the Capitol from the Boardman Law Firm’s Atrium in the U.S. Bank building on the square and ended the day inside one of the Senate hearing rooms on the third floor of the Capitol.
Joining the discussion were Todd Berry, Mark O’Connell, executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association and Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. Todd’s presentation gave an overview of the state’s historical tax progression and how our current finance structure came to be; how Wisconsin compares to other states; and past, current and future challenges with the 2011-13 state budget. One of the many questions being asked today is does the proposed state budget improve the state’s long-term fiscal health? According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the short answer is both yes and no. General fund spending for the biennium is up 6.4% over 2009-11. The structural “deficit” carried over from prior years is markedly reduced. However, progress is still needed in reducing the state debt and the “GAAP deficit” reported on official state financial statements.
Aside from the budget deficit, what is one of Wisconsin’s biggest challenges? Dan Thompson discussed the increasing trend for the state’s talented college graduates to leave Wisconsin in pursuit of jobs and higher wages. Known as the “brain drain,” he pointed out that Wisconsin is importing one of its greatest products — bright, educated young people to join our work force and stimulate the economy. This is of particular concern due to the shift in demographics the state is, and will be, experiencing over the next few years. More and more baby boomers are retiring and the next generation of workers is leaving Wisconsin for other opportunities.
Mark O’Connell agreed with the need to turn this trend around and shared some of the innovative solutions that people are coming up with to address this, along with several other challenges facing the state. For example, he discussed the idea of establishing a program that would supplement or replace higher education loans and grants. The idea is to devise a program that provided specified levels of funding for specified rates and times of payback to the state tied to the recipient’s future income levels. Essentially, students would receive money from the state to attend college in Wisconsin, with the ability to pay back their tuition at a later time in increments based on their salary, once they have started working in the state. This would give the state more control over its investment, the student, and secure that more graduates remain in Wisconsin’s work force.
Next month: lockers, hot lunch and chalkboards. That’s right LGM18 is going back to school! The class is looking forward to spending the day with some of Madison’s brightest students currently in middle and high school. LGM Alumni are invited to stop by for a brief social with LGM18 class members on Tuesday, May 10, 4:30 – 5:30 at Tully’s II on Monona Dr. E-mail Lynn Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to join us. Stay tuned for highlights of our monthly sessions and updates of the LGM18 project work. As a reminder, visit us on Facebook to find out more information about this year’s class and projects, and to connect with fellow alumni!