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Update on State Budget — URGENT ACTION NEEDED

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First, JONAH would like to THANK all volunteers who have submitted testimony, attended listening sessions, and spoke at the JFC Hearings.  Your efforts to share your stories and energy have made an impact and we at JONAH are extremely grateful for you!

Now there is more work to do – and urgently!

The budget for 2019-2021 is in the hands of the Joint Finance Committee. JONAH’s top three issues are in danger of not being funded!  We need you, between now and May 15, to contact the members of the Joint Finance Committee – one by one, and help inform them on these issues and WHY they are important to fund.

These are our 3 main budget issues:

  • Immigrant Driver Licenses
  • Treatment instead of Prisons
  • Public Transit

It is within our power to make a budget for ALL WISCONSIN PEOPLE! The impact of these issues on the populations affected -including JONAH members and constituents- is too great and devastating to be ignored. JONAH is here to stand for the dignity of all, regardless of their status or numbers.

THIS WEEK STAND WITH JONAH ON THE STATE BUDGET:

  1. Inform yourself! – Read the background and learn our requests for each of our key issues (courtesy of WISDOM). You’ll feel + sound like a pro!
  2. Make the calls! – Contact each member of the Joint Finance Committee by phone preferably (email or paper mail are okay too). Use the background information and requests below to empower yourself in the conversation. ****NOTE: When you talk to JFC members you must first say, “even though I am not  a member of your district, I would like to voice to you my concerns about the state budget.”
  3. Track our impact! – Comment on THIS FACEBOOK post that you did this (so we can collectively track our impact), and then share it and encourage others to do the same.

JOINT FINANCE COMMITTEE CONTACT INFORMATION

OUR ISSUES

Immigrant Drivers’ Cards

Request:  Allow provision for Drivers’ Cards for undocumented people to remain in the state budget.  It brings new revenue to the state, besides ensuring that people can get to work, school and church.

Background: Before 2006, Wisconsin, like most states, issued driver licenses to undocumented immigrants.  The Real ID act of 2005 created new federal standards for state-issued driver licenses and non-driver identification cards.  The law allowed states to still issue “driving privilege certificates/cards”; 12 states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and DC have chosen to do that. Those states have provided unlicensed drivers the opportunity to pass the driver’s test, pass a vision test and obtain car insurance – making roads safer for all drivers. Safe and secure roads are directly connected to driving certificates or cards for the undocumented.  A study in California showed a significant reduction in hit and runs since the introduction of the driver’s card program. Bills to issue driver cards were introduced in Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015 but went nowhere.

Without a driver’s certificate or card, undocumented immigrants have greater difficulty getting to work, taking their children to school, going to the grocery store, opening bank accounts, receiving proper health care etc.  Without a driving permit, the undocumented face an increased risk of becoming “criminalized” under new immigration guidelines. This leads to the ongoing problem of possible separation of families. They are in constant fear of being targeted or profiled. Lack of a driver’s card is an issue that has a direct impact on everyone.

Transit

Request:  Support Governor Evers’ proposed transportation budget which includes:

  • $22 million increase for transit
  • $10 million for transit capital assistance
  • $6 million increase for specialized transit
  • 10% increase to Tribal Elderly Transportation Grants & Paratransit Aid
  • Levy limit exclusion.

Background: WISDOM and our supporters believe that the state transportation budget should ensure every person access to a robust public transportation system.

The transportation system in Wisconsin is not working for everyone. People who cannot or choose not to drive are unable to access jobs, healthcare, school and other opportunities due to a lack of transportation options. Previous cuts in state investment have forced our public transit systems to eliminate routes and have prevented the replacement of aging buses. Public transportation is an economic driver and a key consideration for businesses deciding whether to enter or leave Wisconsin communities.  Meaningful mobility choices are an investment in vibrant communities and a healthy Wisconsin economy.

The need for accessible and affordable public transportation is greater than ever. The aging baby boomer population, the millennial generation, low income populations, workers, and people with disabilities all rely on public transportation. All Wisconsin residents need a modern, robust, multimodal transportation system that provides an important connection to jobs, school, healthcare and entertainment.

No Prison Expansion

Request:  Do NOT support budget provisions to add “barracks” or otherwise add new beds to Wisconsin’s prison system.  Do NOT support capital projects to do renovations to the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.

Background: Wisconsin incarcerates far too many people.  Our prison population has gone from about 3,500 in 1980 to more than 23,500 in 2019.  It is time to join states like Texas, Michigan, Connecticut, Mississippi, Rhode Island and South Carolina, which have significantly decreased their prison populations in  recent years and are closing facilities that are no longer needed.

Wisconsin could safely reduce its prison population by at least 1/3 within the next two years if it just took common sense steps that other states have already pioneered.  Specifically, Wisconsin could cut the prison population by 8,000 by:

  • Increasing TAD funding by $15 million;
  • Ordering a complete review of all parole-eligible people being held under the “Old Law” and moving quickly to release those who are overdue for release;
  • Ending the practice of Crimeless Revocations

Knowing this, the plans in the Governor’s proposed budget to add to the state’s prison capacity are unnecessary and wasteful.  The state needs to focus first on the steps it can immediately take to cut down on prison admissions and to hasten the release of those who have served the time judges had planned for them to serve.  

Wisconsin’s budget should not spend any money to expand prison capacity.  It should be planning to close facilities that are old (e.g. Green Bay and Waupun) and/or inhumane and dangerous (e.g. the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility).  It should plan to redirect the savings to programs that will uplift and rebuild the communities that have been the most harmed by unnecessary incarceration.

Treatment Alternatives and Diversions

Request:  Increase the proposed TAD increase in the 2019-21 budget to $15 million per year and ensure that the increase is distributed in a way that is proportional with the rates of incarcerated people from each county.  

Background: Wisconsin is at a unique crossroads of need and opportunity.  On one hand, our state prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and, in some cases, very near the end of their physical viability.  New OWI laws, the heroin epidemic, and the continuing crisis of methamphetamine addiction are threatening to further increase the population of our prisons.  On the other hand, Wisconsin has many proven, evidence-based, cost-effective alternatives to incarceration. Drug Treatment Courts, Veteran’s Courts, Family Courts, OWI Courts, the Safe Streets Treatment Options Program (SSTOP), and other interventions have all proven to be more effective than incarceration for reducing recidivism.

Legislatively-mandated evaluations of the programs funded by the Treatment Alternatives and Diversions (TAD) fund show that they save taxpayers almost $2 for every $1 the state has invested.  We currently spend about $6 million for TAD each year, but the UW Lafollette School of Public Affairs has recommended that the state should budget at least $22 million per year.

In the next budget, Wisconsin has the ability to safely and effectively reduce the prison population and the growth in prison spending by significantly increasing the funding available for TAD.  A $15 million increase could divert at least 1,500 people from state prisons, and many thousands from county jails. A majority of this increase needs to be targeted to the communities that have the state’s highest incarceration rates.