Finance Committee Continues Building State Budget; Tax Cuts, Education Funding Are Highlights

The Wisconsin Legislature remains focused on assembling a state budget for the 2021-2023 fiscal biennium. In his executive budget proposal, Governor Tony Evers (D) included a two-year operating budget of more than $90 billion and a long list of changes to various state laws and programs. Immediately following the governor’s budget address in February, legislative leaders indicated they would make significant changes to the proposal.

As we reported last month, the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee (JFC) took steps on May 6 to strip hundreds of policy items from the budget, including major priorities of the governor’s such as accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, legalizing recreational marijuana, and creating a state-based health insurance exchange. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), these changes meant forgoing $2.4 billion in federal funds and $1 billion in projected tax revenue.

Following this action, JFC adopted substitute amendments that reset spending across the board to levels established in the previous budget. The committee then approved standard “cost-of-living” increases for state agencies to cover things such as the cost of employee salaries and benefits and agency leases. That motion also addressed the sum sufficient appropriations that cover principal and interest payments on state debt as well as some tax credits.

During its May 6 executive session, JFC adopted the following motions:

  • Motion 19 (omnibus motion to remove policy items)
  • Motion 22 (substitute amendments to reset spending levels)
  • Motion 24 (standard budget adjustments, sum sufficient appropriations, agency budget reductions and transfers)

All told, these changes leave the committee with a projected $2.5 billion surplus in general purpose revenue. The co-chairs of JFC, Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Representative Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), told a meeting of the state’s largest business lobby that they anticipated including a tax cut in the budget. The details of that proposal are not yet clear.

The finance committee has since spent its time approving budget motions for various state agencies and programs. JFC is on pace to finish the budget and vote it out of committee by the end of June. Generally, once the committee has finished acting on the budget, it will take about a week for staff to draft the revised budget bill. Then, the budget faces a vote of the full Legislature. It is not yet clear if the bill will begin in the Senate or the Assembly.

Gov. Evers recently told reporters that a full veto of the budget was “on the table” primarily because he objects to the level of K-12 education funding that JFC approved in late May. The committee provided an increase in state funding for K-12 education compared to the last budget, but at only 10 percent of the governor’s original proposal.

Below is a list of motions adopted by JFC so far:

May 13

May 20

May 27

  • Motion 58: UW System, Technical College System, and Higher Educational Aids Board
  • Motion 59: Department of Public Instruction

June 2

  • Motion 62: Department of Safety and Professional Services
  • Motion 68: Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
  • Motion 71: Department of Natural Resources
  • Motion 72: Department of Workforce Development

The finance committee has yet to adopt budget motions for the following state agencies:

  • Department of Children and Families
  • Department of Corrections
  • Department of Health Services
  • Department of Military Affairs
  • Department of Natural Resources (some items)
  • Department of Transportation
  • Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation