Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

April 28, 2023

What Comes Next In the State Budget Process?

The Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) just finished our series of four public hearings to listen to input from citizens throughout the state.  We heard from approximately 1,384 people, who each received two minutes to provide testimony or share their opinion in writing at a hearing.  We listened to more than 30 hours of testimony.
In addition to in person testimony, the committee received 2,985 contacts via our online portal. All of this input has been provided to each member of the committee to review. These contacts are combined with the hundreds of emails and phone calls we each receive directly and the hundreds of meetings that have happened since we started the new legislative session in January.
We have received tremendous input. We have heard support for funding for schools, school choice programs, university building projects, economic development, shared revenue, child care, health care, the Aging and Disability Resource Centers, natural resources programming, roads, Special Olympics, libraries and much, much more.
So, what happens now? While we continue to receive feedback and input, we are transitioning to the building phase of the budget process. As I have written before, the legislature is going to build the state budget from base. What does this mean?
The base budget is our existing foundation. It is the current, ongoing, state spending plan. It includes operating costs and obligations. These operating costs and obligations include personnel, programs that were designed to continue, commitments for buildings, infrastructure and debt.
Imagine it this way – every two years, the legislature builds a new house on an existing foundation – the base budget. We add bricks for every spending increase, new investment, new program and new idea. Sometimes we don’t use all of the bricks and we send them back to the supplier – you the taxpayer.
During this process, you will likely hear that we are “cutting” things when we don’t give an organization, an agency or even a Governor what they asked for. We might even allocate more money for something, but if it doesn’t rise to the level that they want, they call it a “cut”. An increase is not a cut.  New funds are not a cut. A new program is not a cut.
Unfortunately, in political circles, we often see organizations, agencies and even Governors request much, much, much more than they actually need to accomplish our mutual goals so that they can point a finger and say that we “cut” something. They set their bar extremely high, knowing full well that it is outrageous, so that they can criticize the legislature and call it a “cut”. Again, an increase is still not a cut and we will be increasing spending on many of our priorities.
The JFC will begin voting in Executive Session very soon. Every vote creates the legislature’s version of the state budget and adds bricks to the base budget. We will start with smaller agencies that will receive standard budget adjustments and small changes. As we progress, we will consider larger agencies and priorities. Some of these decisions must wait until the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) issues a revenue re-estimate in May. This re-estimate will provide a more current, accurate view of our state’s finances.
The JFC intends to complete our work on the budget by mid-June in order to send the revised bill to both houses of the legislature for action. Our goal is always to send the budget to the Governor by June 30th. We will do our level best.
Every Executive Session is broadcast on Wisconsin Eye. You can watch us live, or recorded, on www.wiseye.org. These sessions can be long discussions, but are full of decisions. My weekly column will provide updates on our actions, so you will be up-to-date on our work for you.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out and connected with me to provide input and ideas during the state budget process. The citizens of the 17th Senate District are informed and engaged. I appreciate every single voice, phone call, email, meeting and contact I have received. Whether we met in the Capitol, over a pancake breakfast or connected via email, your participation in the budget process is essential to my work on your behalf.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703. I want to hear from you.