What's Happening at the Capitol?!
common question Wisconsin legislators hear is, “What’s happening at the
Capitol?” Until about mid-Summer, the 2017-2019 State Budget will be our
focus – $76,000,000,000 of taxpayer money commands our respect and
attention. It can be a confusing process so let’s dive in and gain a
better understanding of what’s happening and when; that way you can feel
more comfortable weighing in and sharing your thoughts with me.
what’s called a biennial budget, we create a new state budget every
The process for the 2017-2019 State Budget started in July of 2016 with
the Governor sending his budget instructions to each of the state
agencies. The Governor required each agency to submit their budget
requests to him by September 15, 2016.
then takes their collective requests, constructs a state budget, and
sends it to the legislature. This year, Governor Walker presented his
989 page proposed 2017-2019 state budget to the legislature on
February 7, 2017.
Now the budget is in the legislature’s court, specifically the
Joint Finance Committee (JFC). JFC is arguably one of the most
powerful state committees in the nation because they have tremendous
control over our state’s finances. JFC is made up of 16 state
legislators, eight from the Senate and eight from the Assembly. Of the
eight members from each house, six are from the majority party and two
are from the minority party. This session, JFC is comprised of 12
Republicans and 4 Democrats.
After receiving the Governor’s budget proposal, JFC takes a month and
allows the non-partisan
Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) to write the
Summary of Governor’s Budget Recommendations. This is a much more
manageable document, only 504 pages! It cuts the length of the
Governor’s original document in half by converting legalese to plain
At this point, non-attorneys can
understand the document, and JFC
holds public hearings all over the state.
This is where we’re at in the
process – please attend and weigh in if you can.
JFC held three public hearings last week and will hold three more the
week of April 17th. During the first three hearings, people spoke on
matters ranging from K-12 education to stray voltage. If you’re
passionate about any state programs, now is the time to speak up and be
Last week, the JFC co-chairs announced
that the committee would be
removing 83 items from the Governor’s proposed 2017-2019 budget
because the proposals were non-fiscal policy items. It’s the right of
JFC to add, change, or remove any items from the Governor’s proposed
budget – again, a powerhouse committee.
After the last public hearing, JFC will
begin to hold Executive Sessions starting near the end of April and
going through May. Members of JFC will vote on modifications, deletions,
or additions to the governor’s proposed budget. The committee will go
through the budget agency by agency and take hundreds of votes on
different proposals (you can watch the process on
Wisconsin Eye or come to the
Capitol in Madison and watch the committee live).
The Joint Finance Committee always tries
to have the committee’s budget proposal done by Memorial Day; however,
that’s a self-imposed deadline that’s rarely met. Usually, JFC will
finish the budget during the beginning of June and it will go to the
entire State Senate and Assembly for a vote.
Only a majority vote is required but the
exact same document needs to pass both houses. If any amendment is added
in either house, the proposal will need to go back to the other house
for approval. I’ve voted on budgets where over 150 amendments have been
proposed on the floor. Each amendment is separately discussed and voted
on by all legislators. There are no limits on amendments and legislators
of either/any party can propose changes.
Here I am debating the 2015-2017 budget
The goal of every
budget is to have the document through the legislature and to the
governor by the end of June. The governor reviews the legislature’s
amended budget that can look very different from the document he
presented to the legislature earlier in the year. By our Constitution,
the governor has the authority to veto any provisions in the budget.
With a simple swipe of the pen, whole sections of the budget can be
struck from the document. However, the legislature has the ability to
override any of the governor’s vetoes with a two-thirds majority vote in
both houses (22 votes in the Senate, 66 votes in the Assembly).
While the budget
process is long and arduous, it’s one of the most important pieces of
legislation that the legislature passes every session. I expect the
2017-2019 budget to dominate headlines and be the talk of the Capitol
even after the document is signed into law by Governor Walker.
Even my summary is
long but it’s my goal to keep you well-informed. Remember, “the price of
liberty is eternal vigilance”. Stay informed, attend and contribute at a
JFC public hearing, and please let me know your thoughts. Our state and
nation depend on it.