Kara O'Connor mug

Kara O’Connor

OPINION The Wisconsin Farmers Union applauds the Wisconsin Legislature Joint Finance Committee’s recent vote to fund the University of Wisconsin-Dairy Innovation Hub. That important investment in our land-grant universities is essential for Wisconsin to remain a leader in the dairy industry.

Meanwhile in Minnesota the state legislature has not only fully funded its universities and colleges, but also just provided $8 million directly to dairy farmers to pay their Dairy Margin Coverage premiums. Why is it that Minnesota can manage to fund university research and provide direct help to struggling dairy farmers, while the Wisconsin state legislature struggled to find money for just one worthwhile initiative?

Maybe it’s because Minnesota has taken advantage of available federal dollars to cover big-ticket items in the state budget like health care, while the Wisconsin state legislature has stubbornly refused to accept those same funds. The result is that Wisconsin is missing out on a $324 million boost to its state budget, and everything else in the budget suffers as a result.

Just think of what even a fraction of an additional $324 million in the state budget could do to help farmers. Wisconsin farmers compete in the same marketplace with farmers all across the country, but they’re doing so with one hand tied behind their backs. Wisconsin is one of only 14 states that has failed to accept federal Medicaid funds to help defray the cost of state health-insurance programs. That $324 million hole in Wisconsin’s budget means there is less money in the state budget for rural roads, rural broadband and for BadgerCare – which helps thousands of farmers per year get health care for their families when times are difficult like they are now.

To date since 2014 Wisconsin has missed out on $1.1 billion in federal money for Medicaid expansion. That’s money that Wisconsin taxpayers are paying in through their federal taxes, but that is not coming back to the state because of the legislature’s stubborn refusal to take it. The result is that Wisconsin farmers have dutifully paid their federal taxes so that state legislatures in other states like Minnesota can take that money and give it back to their farmers – and to their colleges and universities, broadband and rural roads. And to extend health-insurance coverage to more farm families who are struggling right now to pay the bills.

How much longer are Wisconsin taxpayers willing to fund other state budgets? And how much longer is the Wisconsin legislature going to ignore that straightforward way to help struggling farmers? Tell legislators, “Take the darn federal money for healthcare.”

It’s long overdue. Some of those tax dollars came from Wisconsin in the first place. We might as well take our portion back and do something useful with it here in the Dairy State.

Kara O’Connor is the government-relations director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities, and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. Visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com for more information.