Wisconsin State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) is calling upon the Joint Committee on Finance Co-Chairs to schedule an additional hearing in Northern Wisconsin to enable citizens in the far North to have similar access to testify on the State Budget as citizens in the rest of the state.
“The decision by the Finance Chairs to schedule the four budget hearings no farther North than Highway 29 is an insult to citizens of the far North who have reason to believe that lawmakers think Highway 29 is the Wisconsin North coast,” Jauch said in a news release. “Citizens of Northern Wisconsin feel isolated and it is simply unfair to schedule hearings that are easy to attend for citizens living in populated areas while denying citizens in the North similar access.”
According to a news release issued Thursday:
The Northern lawmaker pointed out that scheduled hearings in Baldwin-Woodville, Green Bay, Wisconsin Dells, and Greendale, a Milwaukee suburb, are convenient for those who live in the most populated areas of the state.
“Baldwin-Woodville is a rural community but pay attention to the distance that citizens from the North must travel to attend compared to distance for other hearings,” Jauch said.
He said that the farthest distance some citizens in southern Wisconsin will travel is an hour and half while citizens in the far North must travel anywhere from 2 ½ to 4 hours to be given their chance to talk. “The fact is that the lengthy difference will discourage citizens from participation,” he said.
“The decision to not hold one of these hearings in a centralized, Northern location gives government a bad name. No bill is more important than the Biennial Budget and the hearings provide one chance for citizens to speak directly to the Finance members in hopes of influencing the budget. Citizens in central and southern Wisconsin will have their chance. Those who live in the North will not,” he added.
Jauch said that he has no problem with the communities that have been chosen, however, he added that one only needs to look at the state map to conclude that there is a huge region that is being overlooked by the Committee Chairs.
Lawmakers of both parties have an institutional responsibility to assure that our government process be transparent and accessible to all citizens. The will of the people only becomes the law of the land when the people have access to their government. No one can honestly deny that the scheduled hearings don’t end up excluding citizens because there is no hearing more accessible to their community.
The lawmaker stressed that in 1985, Finance leaders implemented statewide public hearings to enable committee members to be more familiar with all regions of the state and to enable public access to influence budget deliberation. “I have eagerly traveled to other regions of the state to learn about their unique challenges and listen to the citizens express their concerns. I just can’t figure out why it is so hard to do the same thing for those who live in the North,” he continued.
“Citizens of the Northern Wisconsin feel isolated and for good reason because all too often southern lawmakers feel the northern boundary of the state is Highway 29. Earlier this year, their sense of isolation was confirmed when the Majority party refused to hold a hearing on this mining bill in Northern Wisconsin where the mine would be located. Scheduling a fifth hearing in the North is the responsible way to assure these citizens that their voice is not going to be ignored as a matter of practice,” he said.
Jauch said he is certain that there are plenty of communities who would love to host the hearing and welcome the committee members and guests willing to testify.
“Our Northern communities are not outposts nor are the citizens alien members of our society. They are proud, hard-working, tax-paying Wisconsin citizens who don’t think it is asking too much for their government to be as accessible to them as their fellow citizens,” he concluded.