Opinion: Wisconsin's state budget is good for the people, environment and economy


The state Legislature should serve all Wisconsinites by supporting key programs in Gov. Tony Evers' proposed budget.

The Wisconsin state budget is one of the most critical pieces of legislation that is worked on. It determines which agencies and programs have the funding to perform their essential roles that keep our state running, our communities thriving, our water clean, our parks accessible and so much more.

Gov. Tony Evers announced his proposed budget last month. Next, the legislative budget committee, called the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), will take public input and workshop the budget before sending it to the Legislature. The Republican-led JFC has said that it will throw out the governor's budget and start from "base," or the current budget we have. This is the wrong move for Wisconsin. The JFC should support key programs in Gov. Evers' budget to best serve all Wisconsinites.

The governor's budget will help address long-standing issues of water contamination in Wisconsin, which is essential for our health and economy. The governor's budget provides funding for replacing lead service lines, increases financial assistance to Wisconsinites whose private wells have been contaminated, brings water contamination measurement criteria within federal standards, and implements a program to address "forever chemical" PFAS pollution. Wisconsin must address water contaminants such as lead, PFAS, nitrates, and bacteria to ensure safe drinking water and safe recreation upon which much of the state’s tourism economy relies.

The proposed executive budget will also have a large impact on outdoor recreation, land conservation, and Wisconsin's outdoor recreation-based economy, which are important to Wisconsinites of all political backgrounds. The proposal recommends modifying the approval process for the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship 2000 Program to protect ecologically important places.

Additionally, funding to implement an Every Kid Outdoors program, which would waive fees for fourth-grade students and their families to access state parks, can help increase the diversity of people who can enjoy Wisconsin state parks, welcoming children and families of any economic status. The budget also includes funding to better maintain public lands and parks and to support county conservation staff.

Wisconsin's executive budget proposal will not only help the environment, public health, and the tourism economy, but also improve mobility for rural and urban individuals who struggle with travel. In the current budget proposal, Wisconsin will increase mass transit assistance by 4% in each calendar year to assist everyone in gaining better access to employment, health care, and recreation throughout the state. In addition, the budget will increase funding to programs that assist the elderly and people with disabilities who live near public transportation, those who need direct-to-destination help or paratransit programs, and employer-sponsored commuting options. Our state's plan for the near future has to take into account the transportation needs of all residents, especially given worker shortages in many parts of the state.

Gov. Evers' proposed budget addresses some of the most urgent needs in Wisconsin: safe drinking water, the climate crisis, related conservation needs, and transportation access to bolster the economy and to better connect people to where they need and want to go. The Legislature must fund these programs in the state budget for the health of Wisconsinites and the environment.

Fred Prueter, Allyson Mills, and Pat Bowne are members of Sierra Club Wisconsin. Their work focuses on issues impacting transportation, land, and water in the state.