State Budget: A Ten Month Marathon

 

Like a household budget, the state budget starts out as a series of priorities, cost-saving measures and planned expenses. But, unlike your household budget, the state budget is introduced as a bill that eventually becomes a state law authorizing most of the state’s spending for the next two years. Putting together such a big piece of legislation can be a long, complicated and overwhelming process, so this week, I’m going to try to make the process a little bit easier to understand.

Every other year, the State Constitution requires the Legislature to pass a budget. The state budget is the largest and most comprehensive piece of legislation the Legislature passes each session, touching every area of life in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s last budget was 660 pages long and set aside $72.7 billion for state spending.

The Governor begins the state budget process in the fall of even-numbered years by asking state agencies to prepare budget requests. These requests include costs to continue or improve services and plans to eliminate or create new programs. Agencies submit requests to the State Budget Office by September 15 and over the following months, the Governor reviews these requests and uses them to make his executive budget proposal.  The proposal is drafted by the Legislative Reference Bureau and submitted to the Legislature in January of odd numbered years along with the Governor’s budget message.  

Once the budget is introduced in the Legislature, it goes to the Joint Finance Committee for review. The Joint Finance Committee, made up of legislators from both parties and both houses of the legislature, will take several months to review the budget. As part of the review process, the committee holds hearings to gather public input and hear directly from state agencies. 

Over the next few weeks the Joint Finance Committee will hold public hearings across the state to receive public input. The first three hearings take place in Platteville, Milwaukee and Berlin, followed by hearings on April 18 at Spooner High School, April 19 at Ellsworth High School and April 21 at Marinette High School. A full schedule can be found at committeeschedule.legis.wisconsin.gov.

After public hearings are complete, the Joint Finance Committee will discuss whether certain parts need to be removed or changed or if new provisions need to be added. These discussions can take a long time and are where the majority of changes to the budget take place. After changes are made, the bill is sent to the full Senate and Assembly for debate and approval. Legislators review the bill and can introduce amendments. The bill and any proposed amendments are debated on the floor of each house. Once both houses have approved the same version of the budget, Governor Walker can sign the bill into law, veto it entirely or veto just parts of the budget. If everything goes according to the plan, Governor Walker will sign the budget into law before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Thankfully, when you put together your household budget, there aren’t 132 legislators second-guessing your proposal, but for a state the size of Wisconsin, the long process and heavy scrutiny helps create a strong and balanced budget that meets our needs. I hope that I’ve helped you learn a little bit more about how the state budget process works.