On the night of July 8, the state budget was passed in the Assembly on a 52-46 vote ending a longer than expected process that featured a number of twists and turns but ended just in time to get the bill to the governor so he can sign it before making his candidacy for President official.
Each budget process follows its own narrative, and this one was no different. Pressures from tightened budget projections weighed on the legislature and were exacerbated by the governor’s Presidential aspirations allowing for little flexibility. In its wake, the state budget left some frazzled relationships as well as some lingering questions as to the future of transportation and education in the state.
While vetoes are expected from Governor Walker, the budget as amended by the legislature will stay largely intact. Before any vetoes, the biennial budget spends over $73 billion, continuing the trend of growing larger to meet expanded state demands.
In addition to the tough fiscal decisions legislators wrestled with, they also added dozens of non-fiscal items, ranging from the headline grabbing prevailing wage reform and the controversial teacher licensing provision to smaller non-fiscal policy that will only affect small segments of Wisconsinites. Some of these items may have resulted in a closer than expected margin in the Assembly’s final tally as 11 republicans jumped ship and voted against the budget. Many of the 11 who voted against the budget are in swing districts heading into the 2016 elections, revealing that there is concern over how independent voters might view approval of the current budget. Passage in the Senate was largely party line (18-15) with only Republican Senator Rob Cowles voting against his party’s budget.
Whether or not there is fallout from newly strained relationships remains to be seen; summer months have a tendency to ameliorate budget grudges. It is clear however, that what will likely remain is a legislature more conservative than most in recent memory, willing to address the state’s problems in a different way than before. For some, this is a breath of fresh air, for others, it’s a problem that needs addressing. Luckily for all of us, we’ll have a solid 18 months before the next budget gets rolled out and we can start all over again.