Jeff Smith column: The budget mosaic
Connecting dots can be very satisfying—when it all clicks together our eyes get big, our jaws drop and we become stunned with our newfound knowledge.
The bigger the conclusion, the more satisfying the result. For legislators, much is the same for comprehending the state budget. Pouring over the details and reading the documents line-by-line can be dull, very dull. But when things start to click and make sense, it's all worth it.
Gov. Tony Evers listened to the experiences and values from many different people and put together a budget that represents a large mosaic—tiny little pictures that make up a larger picture. There is value in viewing the mosaic from afar, but there can also be a benefit peering closely at one of the small pictures within to see how it all connects.
The other day, when giving a presentation about the budget at one of our listening sessions, a retired assistant district attorney chimed in about criminal justice changes in the state budget. He was concerned about forgetting the seriousness of some crimes. He stressed that sometimes incarceration is the only safe place for some criminals.
This gentleman had a point—we will never stop all crime. Some crimes are so heinous the guilty need to be locked up from society. Most often, criminals are the product of many factors. Without a good education some may be more at risk of committing a crime. Some grew up in a family stuck in a cycle of violence. Others still may have grown up in a good family, but struggle with mental health.
If we address the ailments of society head on, we have the best chance at fighting crime before it happens. Helping people with addiction and mental health issues get access to affordable and high-quality health care can help. Or fixing our broken school funding formula can help schools better educate at-risk youth. There's no shortage of opportunities to help society heal.
Just as we think of numerous ways to address a single facet of the budget, let's now talk about a single issue in the budget and how it affects all different aspects of our society.
It's hard to go a day as state senator without hearing how broadband internet expansion can help Wisconsin prosper. I was encouraged to see Gov. Evers include nearly $100 million in additional broadband funding in his budget. That's more than double the amount we've spent on broadband in the last five years combined!
The budget also defines broadband as speeds that can download content at least 25 megabytes per second (mbps) and upload content at 3mbps. That's also the Federal Communications Commission's standard of broadband.
Farmers will be able to connect to learn more about best practices, find new opportunities to sell their products directly to consumers and file reports. Kids will be able to do their homework and research at speeds that keep up with the rapidly advancing world. Patients and doctors will be able to use telehealth screenings. Broadband is the difference that makes our communities stronger. Agriculture, education and healthcare all need broadband access.
Like rural electrification, rural broadband access is critical if our small cities, villages and towns are going to thrive and continue to exist. And, like rural electrification, government has a role. Broadband expansion is expensive and most service providers don't believe there are enough profits to justify the cost in rural areas. They need incentives to expand into underserved communities.
The biggest difference between rural electrification and rural broadband expansion is the benefits to all for connecting more people. Every single person or business that connects to the world wide web not only gets access to the world's largest repository of advice and information, but they also become a contributor for everyone else in the world.
Now, those are two prime examples of how multiple budget matters connect to affect citizens across all spectrums of life in Wisconsin. The budget is a moral document—it lays out our values and offers us a glimpse of how everything we do in state government is connected.