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Committee gathers hours of budget-related testimony in Baldwin

St. Croix County Judge Scott Needham testifies in favor of a restoration of state funds for the court system during Thursday's hearing in Baldwin.

The Joint Committee on Finance, made up of Wisconsin senators and Assembly members, met in Baldwin for seven hours Thursday to gather testimony from people with concerns about state budget priorities.

Hundreds of people were on hand at the Baldwin High School auditorium to watch the proceedings or get their name on a list so they could have two minutes to address the committee.

Among the members of the committee were State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and State Assemblyman Dean Knudson.

There were several topics that kept popping up during the day's testimony.

Both advocates for and opponents of school vouchers were on hand to express their various opinions on the proposal. Gov. Scott Walker has suggested that the voucher program, which provides students with state aid that allows them to attend private schools if they choose, be expanded across the state.

Students and administrators from such schools as St. Mary's in New Richmond and Trinity Academy in Hudson showed up in force to urge legislators to support an expansion of vouchers and tax credits.

Numerous public school administrators, parents and school board members spoke in opposition to an expansion of vouchers, noting that resources leaving public schools would harm districts across Wisconsin.

Other topics of concern to those testifying included caps on tuition rate hikes in the University of Wisconsin system; continued funding for tobacco education efforts; continued funding for rural health care; continued funding for arts programs; additional funding for anti-obesity efforts; continued money for state grazing programs; restoration of funding for county courts; and expansion of state support for tourism marketing.

The Baldwin hearing, which ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., was the last of four hearings that the Joint Committee on Finance held across the state. Previous hearings were held in Green Bay, Greendale and Wisconsin Dells.

For more complete coverage, see next week's New Richmond News.