Public school funding, UW fees, gas tax dominate first budget hearing

Public school funding, UW fees, gas tax dominate first budget hearing

Opponents of raising the gas tax to pay for roads and supporters of increasing funding for public schools are making their cases to Wisconsin state lawmakers.

The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee held the first of six public hearings in Platteville on Monday on the two-year, $76 billion spending plan.

One of the issues of the day in Platteville was how to fund public education.

“First we must restore full funding for public schools without any transfer to support vouchers, private schools or for-profit schools,” said retired teacher Leslie DeMuth.

Sixty-five-year-old retired state worker Tom Poppe is advocating for a $300-per-student funding increase, or $100 more than what Gov. Scott Walker is proposing.

Lawrence Seib of Lake Mills agreed.

“Strong public schools are not only what our kids deserve but they’re good for the state’s economy,” Seib said.

UW-Madison students turned out to ask committee members not to approve the governor’s proposal to allow students to opt out of segregated fees that fund some student organizations.

“The Rape Crisis Center is funded by segregated fees,” said Leslie Nguyen, a student who said a friend had been raped. “The governor wants to allow students to opt out of segregated fees because it funds services they don’t use. What he doesn’t realize is that sometimes we don’t get to opt out of what we need to use.”

Rena Neuman advocated for the F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture program, which is also funded by segregated fees.

“Under opt-out, the funding that breathes life into my organization would wither away and we would no longer be able to provide for our community,” Neuman said. “We would lose our jobs, our office and our farm.”

A contingent from Americans for Prosperity came to lobby against a gas tax increase. Carl Wiggert was wearing a T-shirt with the message “The Burden Is Too Heavy. Stop the Gas Tax Hike.”

A 13-year-old from Onalaska with the group said she was concerned about the issue as well.

“When I become 16 and I’m hoping to get a job, I want to put money forward to college, not to fill up a gas tank,” said Sarah Hitchler.

Hitchler said it was a civics experience to sit and watch testimony before the committee.

“It’s very educational, yes,” Hitchler said. “I’ve heard a lot of millions thrown out there which was big to me, because it’s good if you see at least one million in your lifetime.”

The next hearing is Wednesday in West Allis.