Sen. Shilling hosts listening session on the 2015-17 state budget

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Senator Jennifer Shilling hosted a listening session in Prairie du Chien Friday, focusing on the 2015-17 state budget and how “Governor Walker’s irresponsible ‘cut and borrow’ policies are preventing economic growth and holding Wisconsin families back.” Representative Lee Nerison joined her in providing feedback from his legislative viewpoint. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

Just 15 constituents attended a listening session with Democratic Senator Jennifer Shilling Friday at Prairie du Chien City Hall, to share their concerns regarding Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget and policies and to request Shilling’s representation when voting on changes to the budget. Republican Representative Lee Nerison also joined the session and gave feedback to those airing comments.

This week, there will be two hearings of the finance committee. Then, after a week off around Easter, the Senate will take up the budget, Shilling said.

Pam Ritchie, executive director of the Opportunity Center in Prairie du Chien, started the session by asking about long-term care program cuts, which has the elderly, individuals with disabilities and their families uncertain about future care options.

“What’s being presented is the most sweeping change we’ve seen in a while,” Ritchie stated. “I would ask that we can have providers at the table as this is being developed.”

Marjorie Sheckler, who spoke on behalf of the Aging and Disability Resource Center Board of Directors, also expressed her anxiety about the cuts to long-term care.

“I know what this could mean for a vulnerable population like this and I know they need consistencey,” Shilling responded.

Sara Ryan had similar concerns about long-term care but also questioned medicaid reimbursements to nursing homes. “Our nursing homes are continually losing money and needing staff,” she said.

Prairie du Chien School Board President Chris Panka, as well as Joe Atkins, former board president, shared their frustrations with the proposed reductions to K-12 education.

“I’m tired of this skimming money off the top and funneling it back to the voucher system. I believe that’s morally wrong,” Atkins commented.

“I’ve been a staunch opponent of expanding vouchers from the beginning,” Shilling pointed out. “At least, in this budget, they’re expecting [those who take advantage of the vouchers] to come from public schools.”
Shilling acknowledged discontent with the fact that state education funding levels are similar to where they were in 1998. Panka noted that, for Prairie du Chien, they’re closer to the values the district saw in 1992.

“We’ve been legislatively capped as a low-spending district,” she said. “The only way we can get funds is to go to our taxpayers for a referendum. That’s not easy and it’s not a fast turnaround either. We’re busy spending down our fund balance and making cuts in order to keep up.”

Panka also mentioned her disagreement with “simplistically assigning a letter grade to schools.” She felt it could be damaging to the local economy. She said, with the new hospital going up, no doctors are going to want to come here if Prairie du Chien Schools were to be assigned anything lower than an A.

Shilling agreed: “We’re getting away from letter grades for our kids and replacing that with ‘meeting expectations’ or ‘exceeding expectations.’ Can you imagine how hard it’s going to be to sell homes in districts that have C grades?”

Paul Lochner, who worked for the DNR for 30 years, broached topics relating to the environment, including the proposed freeze to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship, which was created in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation.

“Over the years, we’ve lost over half the foresters in the DNR. If a position’s left open for a year, it’s gone,” Lochner stated, adding that supervisory positions in the big cities are always filled, however. “The DNR has gotten so unprofessional. When I have a question, I want an answer. I don’t want a website or a brochure.”

Additional community members speaking Friday included James Walz, teachers’ rights; Bill Howe, fisheries, train derailments and railroad accountability; Dave Troester, of the Crawford County Land Conservation Department, DATCP staffing reimbursements; and others.

If you were unable to attend the listening session but have comments to share, contact Shilling’s office at (800) 385-3385 or

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