Guest Column from Rep. Jim Steineke - State Budget Process Relies on Input from Everyone

February 6, 2015

Every two years, the State Legislature passes a budget bill. It’s a two-year budget that is the single largest bill of the legislative session. It affects every state agency, project, employee, and taxpayer. Because of the importance of the budget bill document, there’s a lengthy process before it becomes law. In a nutshell, the budget is introduced by the Governor, referred to the Joint Finance Committee and approved, voted on by the Legislature and sent back to the Governor for final approval.

The Governor begins budget preparations in late summer the year before the budget is introduced as agencies present their spending requests to the Governor. He uses these requests and input from other legislators, constituents and stakeholders to draft the first version of the budget. The kickoff of the budget process is the budget address. This usually occurs in February when the Governor gives a summary of the budget to a joint session of the Legislature.

After this, the budget bill is in the Legislature’s court where it’s immediately referred to the Joint Finance Committee, a bi-partisan committee made up of Senate and Assembly members. Before the Joint Finance Committee proceeds, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reviews every detail of the budget, offering historical references, recommendations from the Governor and possible implications and alternatives. This information is of great value to the Joint Finance Committee as it makes amendments to the budget.

The Joint Finance Committee holds agency briefings and then hits the road, holding public hearings throughout the state. This is a crucial time for everyone who wants to make their voices heard publically since anyone can register to testify in front of the Joint Finance Committee.

Once the public hearings are over, the entire budget is reviewed and amended as required during executive sessions. All of these sessions are open to the public and can be watched online at Wisconsin Eye. This is where the majority of the changes are made to the budget. The executive sessions begin in April and finish by early June. After the Joint Finance Committee approves the amendment budget, it goes back to the Legislature where the Assembly and Senate will vote on it and send it back to the Governor for his signature.

At this point in the 2015-2017 budget process, Governor Walker has introduced the budget and it’s been referred to the Joint Finance Committee. The Joint Finance Committee will begin agency briefings in several weeks after the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reviews the budget.

It’s important to remember that when the Governor introduces the budget bill, it’s an indicator of his budget priorities. Now it’s the Legislature’s time to examine it carefully and make changes that reflect our priorities. It’s my hope that the final budget bill is a plan that keeps our fiscal house in order while funding necessary programs. Every decision that Assembly Republicans make will be based on the principal of not spending more than we have while keeping important government programs solvent.

I look forward to working with the Governor and my Legislative colleagues to craft a budget that we can all be proud of.