The Joint Committee on Finance continued its action on the state budget bill this week, meeting on both Tuesday, May 5th and Thursday, May 7th. In addition to the Committee’s action, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released its updated revenue forecast based upon the most recent revenue collections.
The Fiscal Bureau found that its revenue estimates are holding, with expected growth in revenues of 3.7% in the current fiscal year. While further revenue growth is not anticipated at this time due to slower growth in the national economy, Committee members, other legislators, and the Governor committed their support for finding alternative ways to provide additional resources for local school aids.
As part of the Committee’s deliberations, two budget amendments proposed by Senator Harsdorf were adopted by the Committee. The budget bill transfers consumer protection functions currently administered by the Department of Health Services (DHS) to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Small businesses affected by this transfer include restaurants, lodging establishments, and some recreational establishments. DATCP currently oversees consumer protections relating to other food-related entities, such as grocery stores and dairy farms. At the request of small business owners, Senator Harsdorf’s motion would freeze fees for two years while the transition occurs to provide certainty to these employers.
A second motion brought forth by Senator Harsdorf was brought to her attention by an architectural firm in our area. Currently the federal government allows for a tax deduction to architects, engineers, or contractors that develop energy efficient building designs for state and local governments and school districts. However, the state agency responsible for state building projects has chosen not to provide the necessary form to these businesses. Senator Harsdorf’s motion would require the state agency to provide the necessary documentation to allow these businesses the ability to claim this federal tax deduction in an effort to encourage energy efficient buildings and create savings in energy costs for taxpayers.
Other highlights of the Committee’s action this week:
· Fully funded state parks through a modest increase in user fees for state parks and trails
· Provided $20,000 in grant funding for advanced life support training to medical professionals that work in rural hospitals and clinics in Wisconsin. This motion was also brought forward by Senator Harsdorf
· Increased funding by $100,000 for the Wisconsin Well Woman Program, which provides cancer screenings to low income women without insurance coverage
· Ensured quality and efficient circuit court operations by providing a 2% salary adjustment for assistant district attorneys and assistant state public defenders to improve retention of qualified and experienced attorneys
· Restored the private on-site water treatment system grant program that was proposed to be repealed. This program provides low-income homeowners with grant funding to replace or repair failing septic systems to preserve groundwater quality
· Retained the current Youth Apprenticeship grant program that funds valuable school-to-work opportunities, which was proposed to be folded into a new program. Youth Apprenticeship connects local businesses with high school students to provide an introduction to professional occupations in a workplace setting