John Nygren And Cory Mason Debate State Budget

Home » Here and Now » All Episodes » John Nygren And Cory Mason Debate State Budget

John Nygren And Cory Mason Debate State Budget

Premiere Date: 
June 6, 2013

John Nygren and Cory Mason debate the proposed budget that passed JFC this week.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

I'm Frederica Freyberg. Tonight, on "Here and Now," all-state budget all the time. The governor's proposed biennial budget cleared the Joint Finance Committee this week, but not without some heavy editing. The $68 billion proposal heads next to the full body before going to the governor for his potential veto pen. Highlights of this week's Joint Finance action include the biggies,  a sweeping income tax cut, expanded school choice and rejection of the federally funded expansion of Medicaid.

We welcome two members of the Budget Writing Committee. Joining us from his district in Marinette, Republican co-chair John Nygren. And in Madison, Democratic representative Cory Mason, of Racine. Welcome to you both.

Cory Mason:

Thank you.

John Nygren:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

First to you, Representative Nygren. On Medicaid, some viewers might wonder whyRepublican budget writers voted to gave up $119 million in federal Medicaid money, a federal expansion that at the same time would have given Badgercare coverage to 85,000 more people. Why did you vote that way?

John Nygren:

Well, I think the decision we made was the middle of the road approach, where we are for the first time ever, anybody at 100% of federal poverty level or below will have access to health care through Medicaid in Wisconsin. But at the same time, we now live in a different world, where we have the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, that we have to live with, and we are allowing 87,000 people to go off Badgercare onto private insurance at much higher reimbursement rates. I think from an access and a quality of health care, it's actually a good opportunity for them.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Mason.

Cory Mason:

This was actually one of the worst decisions I think we made in the entire budget process that really deifies common sense or math. We actually turned away hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to do it. More importantly, it leaves 84,700 Wisconsin residents without that Badgercare expansion, and puts them into a private market where people making $18,000, $20,000, $22,000 a year would have co-pays that are $2,000 to $4,000 a year.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet Republicans on the committee did add $73 million for hospitals to cover uninsured in case of problems with these health care exchanges. Obviously, again, you'd like this full expansion. But to you, Representative Mason, is this an acceptable backup plan?

Cory Mason:

No. I mean, it actually acknowledges that their own plan isn’t going to work. It's so flawed that they've got to give the hospitals $73 million to cover the people who are uninsured who are going to come through the emergency room doors. So what the Republicans did is they are going to spend $120 million more of state money to cover fewer people. And at a time when people are looking for economic security and worried about being one health care disaster away from bankruptcy, or wondering if their kids are going to be able to see a doctor, to put partisan politics or winning a presidential primary above, you know, giving health care coverage to 84,000 Wisconsin residents is just-- It defies common sense.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Nygren, what's your reaction to that, that this is politics?

John Nygren:

Well actually, I think you have to look at the long-term sustainability of Medicaid in Wisconsin. Medicaid, let’s just face the facts, Medicaid reimburses the hospitals and doctors about 10 cents on the dollar compared to private insurance. To think that that system is sustainable long-term, we simply don't agree. So to allow these 87,000 people to go on federal exchange, to have private insurance that reimburses at a much higher rate than the Medicaid does, we think is more sustainable. In addition to that, let’s face facts, Wisconsin has to have a balanced budget. We can't print money. Because of that we're in a position where we've got to actually-- We've got money in the bank where the federal government does not. So the long-term sustainability of the Medicaid dollars being there, I think is seriously in question.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Nygren, I'm going to stay with you and move along, because our time is somewhat short, to this tax cut. Now, the $650 million income tax cut in the Joint Finance version has been described by various people, including Republicans, as kind of the crown jewel of this budget. Why double it over what the governor proposed?  

John Nygren:

Well, I would even say it's larger than that. By the time you add in the deduction for private school-- private school tuition, it gets closer to a $670, $680 million number. That coupled– We're proud of this. That coupled with the $300 million or so in tax cuts that are actually phasing in in this biennium, that's nearly a billion dollars since Republicans came into power. I would put that up against the Democrats' position where they had a serious deficit of $3.6 billion, which now is a surplus we talked about. And now we are providing a billion dollars of tax relief compared to billions of dollars in increases. And at the same time funding our priorities.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Mason what's your reaction to this?

Cory Mason:

I didn't think there was a way to make the Walker budget much worse, but the Joint Finance Committee did. And this is a great example of it. So last budget we cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the schools. At a time when we go from deficit to surplus, instead of putting those monies back into the public schools, they're literally stealing that money from the schools and paying for a tax cut that benefits the wealthy. In a way. It's a bad deal for the middle class across the board. It's bad for public schools, who are by and large going to fund this tax cut and it's a bad deal even of itself. If you're making the median income you might see $119, $120 a year in this tax cut. If you're making $300,000, you're going to see more than ten times that in your deduction. It's a completely unfair distribution of the tax cut that favors people who make six figures.

John Nygren:

Representative Mason might support redistribution, but the key part of this tax cut that we're talking about is that 55% of the people will get-- at $100,000 or more, will get 55% of the relief. That's because they pay 55% of the taxes. He may agree with redistribution. We do not. We think people that pay it should get it back. At the same time, we actually, because of our increased revenues, we took half, half of the increased revenue, gave it to the K-12 schools. The other half we're giving back to the people.  

Cory Mason:

If you want to do a flat tax that benefits the wealthy, you should say that, and stop pretending you’re doing a tax break that benefits the middle class. Because you’re not.

John Nygren:

Every rate, every rate is reduced in this budget. Every rate.

Cory Mason:

So you guys double down on trickle down and put another $300 million to benefit the top brackets instead of putting it into the bottom brackets where the middle class pay their taxes.

John Nygren:

I think we agree. You support redistribution, we support giving it back to the people who paid it.

Frederica Freyberg:

I'm moving on to school choice. Representative Nygren, the committee expanded school choice not just to nine districts, but statewide, with strict enrollment caps in the biennium. Would it be your goal to lift those enrollment caps in the next budget?

John Nygren:

I think long-term. I mean, if you look at this expansion, it's consistent with the way Milwaukee began. And over the course of time as the system did set up its structure and become productive and successful, more people enrolled, yeah, we did look at increasing the cap. And I do believe long-term that is a discussion we'll continue to have, about what options are best for kids. These are kids in poverty remember, 185% of the federal poverty level or below, what is best for them to have educational success.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Mason, it seems that parents in Racine have embraced the choice program there. You've got a large choice school.   The district administrator says it has injected positive kind of competition into the Racine district. What do you say to your constituents about why you voted against this expansion?

Cory Mason:

I tell them that what we have a responsibility to do is to adequately fund a school system that educates every kid in this state. And the voucher program doesn't do that. It hasn't had an impact on improving the outcomes of poor kids in Racine, or in Milwaukee for that matter. The achievement gap's just as big as it's ever been. But if you listen to Republicans talk, what they’re saying,  Tony Evers, superintendent of schools, says, if you do what Republicans are talking about long-term, that means the state is going to put money into another school system. That could cost $1.9 billion in future years. That’s unaccountable to tax-payers, and has poorer results than the public schools that we have now.

Frederica Freyberg:

I want to move along and go back to you, Representative Nygren, and ask you about one of these items that kind of came up in the early morning of the last overnight of business between Joint Finance, and that is the motion that would make the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism vacate its offices here in Vilas Hall. Why?  

John Nygren:

Well, this has been somewhat misrepresented. I think you outlined it accurately, that it's making them vacate. We’re saying that we can't have state resources going to one journalism entity or the other. There are other similar organizations that are out there that have perhaps maybe right-leaning inclinations. And this organization, I think some would say, because of its funding might have left-leaning inclination. Our perspective is, let them compete evenly. That, I think, is what most taxpayers would support.

Frederica Freyberg:

One more question on this particular item, and to you, Representative Nygren. The same provision would forbid university employees from working with the center. Now, you may know that we at Wisconsin Public Television and Public Radio are university employees, and that we partner with that center. Is it the intention to forbid this collaboration?

John Nygren:

As I was asked this question at a press conference yesterday, I think the Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio are unique entities. There's not other organizations that are out there competing with you. So that is not our intention.

Frederica Freyberg:

There's no competition for us. But finally, Representative Mason-- Thank you, Representative Nygren, for the answers to those questions. But Representative Mason, your overnight inclusion for the Joint Finance budget was to make the kringle the state pastry. So what is the fiscal implication of that?

Cory Mason:

There isn't one. But before we move on to the kringle, I just want to say on evicting the school of investigative journalism from Wisconsin, I mean, of all the things to do in the middle of the night, you know. It smacks of, sort of, third world banana republicanism to, in the middle of the night, evict a part of journalism. I mean, every politician has a story from some interaction they've had with a reporter where they didn't like what the reporter had to say. I have those stories. Everybody has those stories. But the idea of trying to shut that kind of journalism down, that expression of free speech that’s so important to our democracy, is really beneath the Republican party and our democracy. I think that's why you're hearing other Republicans come out so strongly against it.

John Nygren:

They have the opportunity to continue to do their job. My guess is Representative Mason might have another opinion if it was Wisconsin Reporter or MacIver Institute who are funded by right-leaning organizations.

Cory Mason:

I'm actually not for, in the middle of the night, telling journalists where they can and can’t do their work. And I don’t think we should be doing that in democracy.

Frederica Freyberg:

You know, I wanted to talk about the kringle, but we're out of time now, so Representative Mason, Representative Nygren, thank you very much.

John Nygren:

Thank you.

Cory Mason:

Thank you.  


We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your comment or story suggestion.

Get to know the Here and Now crew.

Find information on elections and candidates and connect to coverage from Wisconsin Public Television and Radio.