Superior Days delegation focuses on wins and challenges – Superior Telegram
MADISON — The second day of Superior Days involved a series of meetings with lawmakers and their staff.
Douglas County delegates scattered around the Capitol in groups of two and three on Wednesday, Feb. 23, sharing concerns that impact Douglas County.
Minnesota students attending universities in Wisconsin pay the amount of tuition they would pay at a Minnesota institution of comparable size. Because Minnesota’s rates are higher than Wisconsin’s tuition rates, which have been frozen for years, that difference is a net gain for the Wisconsin side.
These additional funds currently flow into the general state fund. Delegates sought to encourage lawmakers to back a pair of bills that would allow universities themselves to retain that difference.
At the University of Wisconsin-Higher, where about a third of students are from Minnesota, that would bring in up to $700,000 a year. That amount is “decimal dust” compared to the state’s general fund, UWS Chancellor Renee Wachter said, but it would make a huge difference to the campus. The move would also benefit other campuses that border Minnesota.
A pair of companion bills have already been introduced in the House and Senate that would allow universities to keep the difference in tuition paid by Minnesota residents. Delegates called on lawmakers to support these bills.
From 2019 to 2020, the cost of care for Medicaid residents in Wisconsin nursing homes was underfunded by $294 million statewide. Nursing homes are losing about $80 a day per person on Medicaid, delegates told lawmakers.
This loss has a big impact on the northern region of Wisconsin, which has a lower average income than other parts of the state and is experiencing a significant increase in the aging population. Delegates called for a per diem supplement to nursing home Medicaid rates that would cover the cost of care and redirect ARPA funds to meet the immediate needs of nursing homes.
Understaffing in nursing homes is causing a ripple effect, Kathy Ronchi, Douglas County Public Health Officer, told Cameil Bowler, a staffer for Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield.
“What we’ve seen in the last year is that a lot of hospitals are showing they’re at full capacity, but often it’s not because of COVID. These are not the people who are cared for by COVID in hospitals, but there is no place where these patients can be sent, because the nursing homes are at their capacity because they are not have no staff. So there are empty beds, but there are no staff to take care of people,” Ronchi said. “So they have to limit how many they can take, so they stay in hospital sometimes for months longer than they should.”
A number of staff and representatives acknowledged the issue of Medicaid reimbursement and its impact on nursing home care.
Douglas County officials have asked lawmakers to allow the county to impose a 0.5% sales tax, with the proceeds going to roads. The move could bring in $4 million a year and save the county from having to borrow money for road projects, County Council Chairman Mark Liebaert said.
The delegates stressed that they would agree to any necessary conditions, such as requiring him to go to the referendum or dividing him with the towns and villages of the county.
“We would like to control our own destiny up north,” Derek Pederson, a Labor 1091 sales rep, told Bowler.
The half-percent sales tax is an idea gaining momentum, Liebaert said, due to support from the Wisconsin Counties Association and a push from Milwaukee toward a half-percent sales tax. percent.
The Douglas County Council chairman said he felt Tuesday’s agency meetings were more productive than lobbying on Capitol Hill.
“The heads of these departments recognize a good idea when they see it,” Liebaert said. “Legislators who give them their marching orders are playing politics.”
Senior Mayor Jim Paine was more optimistic.
“I think it was one of the best Superior days in quite a while,” he said after returning to Superior and shrugging off the week’s snowfall. “I was very pleasantly surprised.”
A victory came during the meeting with the Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Craig Thompson.
“We were asking them to use the Local Roads Improvement Program to distribute federal infrastructure funds, as opposed to the STP-Urban process, which is a very technical request, but a big deal,” Paine said. “One is a local process that just says, ‘Hey, City of Superior, we’re going to give you some money to do your projects. There you go.
STP-Urban asks the state to design and execute the project, such as the U.S. Highway 2 reconstruction work. Distributing the funds through LRIP, Paine said, would allow the city to achieve almost all the local projects it has already planned and could enable the realization of additional infrastructure projects.
Another victory occurred on the legislative side.
“The president and I had some really good conversations about the local options sales tax,” Paine said, particularly with Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
“He’s a big proponent of sales taxes and he’s very keen to change the way local governments are funded. And he was right, he supported our proposals,” Paine said.
The meeting with the Public Service Commission was also encouraging, Paine said. The delegation was trying to convince members of the department that broadband access is as much an urban problem as a rural problem.
“And after we made the case, they said, ‘Yeah, we’re okay, and those were the conversations we had. And so we consider it a victory. We believe that in the future we will be eligible for some money for our broadband project,” Paine said.
For the senior delegation, this was the 37th year of lobbying.
The biggest win, Paine and Liebaert agreed, was that Superior Days took place, in person, in Madison.
“It almost didn’t happen again,” Liebaert said. “I’m glad we did.”
Wachter said they appreciate the lawmakers’ attention to the issues and hope the bipartisan support for them materializes.
“The last few times there the conversations haven’t been as productive and they’re just the best they’ve been in years,” Paine said.