With Gov. Scott Walker’s signature last week, the 2017-19 biennial budget is now complete. I have previously discussed our historic investment of $636 million in K-12 education, and how property taxes will be lower on the median value home at the end of this budget than they were in both 2014 and 2010. However, I think now is a good time to reflect on the process and highlight some provisions you may not have heard about that make this budget beneficial for all Wisconsinites.
Even though our state’s unemployment rate is at historically low levels, Gov. Walker and the Legislature made it a priority to invest in our workers so they can continue to get ahead and succeed in a 21st-century economy. We increased funding for workforce training programs, including grants in the Wisconsin Fast Forward program by $11.5 million. We also focused on technical skills in our school districts by creating a technical education equipment grant program and dedicating an additional $1 million to career and technical education grants to help school districts that helps students earn a technical education certificate. Moreover, we invested $1 million to help the Department of Corrections expand vocational opportunities for offenders who are preparing for re-entry in order to help reduce recidivism while also bolstering our state’s workforce.
Shifting our focus more locally, this budget includes many provisions that will assist Dodge County and other counties across the state. Funding for county conservation staffing was increased by $900,000 in order to assist counties as they work to protect our natural resources and implement conservation plans. The state also provided additional dollars to local public health departments in order to help them prevent or control the spread of deadly communicable diseases. Treatment and diversion program funding provided in the budget and through 2017 Act 32 will help counties statewide start new drug treatment courts and hopefully Dodge County’s successful Treatment Alternatives and Diversion program will serve as a model.
Putting an emphasis on improving mental health care access and quality was one of our top goals last session and we continued those efforts in this budget. We increased the number of dementia care specialists in the state that provide information and assistance to families dealing with Alzheimer’s and similar diseases. This is critically important as family caregivers sometimes need guidance when discussing options for care and when dealing with health care professionals. We also expanded funding for the child psychiatry consultation program by $1 million, helping medical providers across the state receive information and consultation when dealing with child psychiatry issues. Lastly, we increased mental health resources for students and school educators by allowing reimbursement for clinical consultations in our medical assistance program for mental health professionals and school faculty.
The budget Gov. Walker signed last week also made important reforms that fight waste, fraud and abuse in our welfare systems. The budget directs the Department of Health Services to request a waiver from the federal government that would allow for a work and training program for childless adults in the medical assistance program. Already successful in the FoodShare program, this measure would help get people back into the workforce. We also implemented an asset limit for FoodShare participants, limiting benefits to people with less than $25,000 in liquid assets. Lastly, in an effort to reduce FoodShare fraud, this budget creates a process under which FoodShare benefits that are left unused for six months or more would be removed and stored offline. It is important our public assistance programs are used for their true purpose and that their resources are reserved for those truly in need. This budget continues to make progress toward this goal.
The budget process this year took longer than normal and included many discussions about issues that are important to us all. In the end, I am glad we spent the time to ensure we are continuing to move in the right direction. My goals and priorities have stayed consistent since my first election. I want to continue to make Dodge County, and Wisconsin, a great place to live, work, and raise a family. This budget does just that.