Schmidt hears more on rural issues in district

Listening sessions address emergency services, grant funds, budget discussions in Madison
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

State Rep. Peter Schmidt held his second set of listening sessions March 13, coming to Tigerton and Gresham after a morning in Black Creek to get the people’s pulse on what they want him to push for in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Wintry weather again impacted the audience size, in Schmidt’s view, but those who did come out made it clear that help for rural communities should be a priority for the freshman legislator. In Tigerton, there was a push from former Shawano County supervisor Ray Faehling to make sure funding is available for emergency services like fire and ambulance.

Schmidt said he has talked with other legislators regarding the biennial budget process, and those services are also an issue for their districts. The Sixth Assembly District is mostly rural land, with volunteer fire department covering much of the area.

“The laws in Madison are that the volunteer (firefighters) can’t get paid, and there’s not enough push with the state laws to change that,” Schmidt said, adding: “There are a couple of bills to address reimbursement, and that’s a step in the right direction.

Faehling noted that the ambulance services receive a set amount to be on call for when an emergency occurs. He said there should be something similar in place for fire departments.

Schmidt said it’s going to take more voices like his to change the attitude from the Capitol about rural Wisconsin, but it seems more like the priority is helping out the Brewers, as some of the money from the $7 billion surplus is planned to help the state’s baseball team with infrastructure and other issues.

“With the governor, his focus is not on the rural parts; he’s more on the Milwaukee Brewers,” Schmidt said. “That’s what he keeps pushing, the Brewers.”

Schmidt estimated that there’s about $3 billion in that surplus that could be budgeted without the risk of putting Wisconsin in a financial hole in future budget years.

Moving on to Gresham, Schmidt sat down with village officials there to discuss additional issues. He told them that there are plans to increase the shared revenue between the state and municipalities but did not know the specific amount that cities, towns and villages should expect.

Among the requests from Gresham was looking into more grant funding for rural communities.

“Everyone in Madison and DC loves grants because they know their friends who are grant writers,” Schmidt said. “In the rural part, we can’t afford to hire a grant writer. That’s the politics internally. That’s why I like block grants — here’s this money, you’re in charge, the local leaders. Here’s your chunk, you solve it. People in Madison and DC don’t like that because it takes away control.”

Schmidt also spoke out about tourism funding. He expressed concern that other states’ recently increasing the money in their budgets to entice visitors might impact Wisconsin if action isn’t taken during the budget process.

“What they’re asking me is to keep it $18 million but see if they can get more,” Schmidt said. “The problem is everybody’s fighting over the dollars because of inflation. Our neighboring states are way outspending us in tourism, so it’s going to hurt our attraction.”

Increases in teen suicides were also a concern Schmidt addressed, and he said it’s something the government needs to address, as well.

“Teens want to go on these social media platforms, and that’s why you have an increase in teen suicides,” Schmidt said. “Yet we as a community don’t think that’s OK. People go on social media, say things and, at the end of the day, they’re not making a positive difference.”

Schmidt also addressed the budget surplus in Gresham, reiterating how the money should go to the people and not to bolstering state sports. Road issues were an issue brought up at the listening session.

“In Madison, they’re giving more to cost-shared revenue than transportation aid,” Schmidt said. “They don’t feel some of the locals will put that money to good use, but they’re going to give it to cost-shared revenue.”

Schmidt said he hopes to hold listening sessions in the district monthly but did not have a schedule yet on sessions in April. He said he hoped he would get better weather than he did with the March meetings in the hopes that more people would come out.

“I should buy a lottery ticket — three Mondays with snow, and the rest of the week, it’s nice out,” Schmidt said.