NEWS: CHANGES TO WRS REMOVED FROM BUDGET
As many of you know, the JFC approved a measure on Thursday that would
make serious changes to the Legislative Committee that oversees the
Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). Now on its own, this doesn’t sound
like much but this provision would remove the lawmakers and public board
member only to replace them with politicians. In other words, this
measure looked like they were preparing to stack the deck in case they
want to make changes to the WRS. The Senate just announced that these
changes will be removed from the budget entirely and it is my hope that
this will also be the case in the Assembly.
Well, I hope you all enjoyed the fireworks this weekend because there
are fireworks going on inside the Capitol right now. Remember that
‘budget deal’ that was announced on Wednesday that would end the
stalemate? It seems to have ignited a bit of a firestorm.
On Thursday, the Joint Finance Committee finally met to finish their
work of redrafting the budget. One of the things that happens on the
last day of this process is the introduction of “Budget Motion 999.”
This is a term for the final catch-all motion for all sorts of items
that the JFC decided to add to the budget at the very last minute. It
usually passes in the middle of the night and the rest of us wake up to
find that something that would never have been approved in the light of
day was snuck into the large motion.
And that is exactly what happened in the wee hours of Friday morning.
The JFC voted to make dramatic changes to Wisconsin’s open records law.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, the open records law
allows anyone to request information from their state lawmakers, local
officials and their offices. But under this proposal in “Budget Motion
999,” this method of open government and transparency would be sharply
This measure quickly incited a public outcry and all the majority
members of the JFC claimed they didn’t know who came up with the idea
after they all voted to approve it. And unfortunately, “Budget Motion
999” was written in a way that makes it almost impossible to find out
who proposed each change.
On Monday, a Republican member of the JFC publically apologized for his
voters for voting for such dramatic changes to our open records law.
Apparently he didn’t understand the full scope of what was being
proposed. Now, I understand that a lot of what we deliberate in Madison
is complicated but it is vital to ensure that you have all the facts
before casting a vote in the middle of the night on something that had
little to no public input.
After so many people got upset about this measure, it was quickly pulled
out of the budget. But that didn’t stop the Assembly leadership from
attempting to defend the merits of the proposal. One of them even
dropped a swear word during an interview. Like I said, fireworks.
Thanks to the hundreds of Wisconsinites who wrote, called or emailed
with their concerns, this measure is now safely out of the budget.
Sometimes “we the people” can make a difference.
So where does this leave us? Well, as we speak, the Senate is debating
the budget and the Assembly will take it up tomorrow. This appears to be
another sign of a turf war between the Assembly and the Senate as they
fight to see who gets to go first. The Senate says they will include a
full repeal of the prevailing wage law in the budget, which goes against
the deal that was announced on Wednesday to leave it out of the budget
entirely. Things are changing so quickly that it is all we can do to try
to stay on top of it.
For those of you who are nerdy like me or wonky enough to want to see
some of the nitty gritty numbers behind the budget, check out this memo
put together by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB). It gives a nice
rundown of the differences between the budget that the Governor
originally proposed back in February and the budget approved by Joint
Finance Committee last week:
I will be sure to keep you updated over the next 24 hours with the
latest on what is happening here in Madison.