Governor’s Budget is Out… So, What’s Next?

On Feb. 8, Governor Walker introduced his 2017-19 budget. This kicks off the legislative budget process that will command the legislature’s time for the next several months.

The governor is traveling around the state selling his proposed budget to the public – often highlighting his $649 million investment in K-12 education. Positioning himself for another re-election bid in 2018, the governor’s campaign recently rolled out a website to drum up grassroots support for his budget proposal.

Meanwhile, legislators await the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s (LFB) budget summary. The LFB summaries guide the Joint Finance Committee’s review of the budget. Like past budgets, LFB Bureau Director Bob Lang stated it will take LFB about a month to prepare these papers.

Once LFB wraps up their budget summary, JFC will invite selected agency heads to testify before the committee on their respective agency budgets. At these hearings, agency heads defend the governor’s budget and answer questions from committee members.

In addition to the agency briefings, JFC will also hold hearings to allow public testimony on the governor’s budget. Public hearings on the bill are held in various locations throughout the state, starting in March and completed by mid-April. In the past, this work is done by the end of April.

After the public hearings, JFC will meet several days each week to take votes in executive sessions on issues in the budget. During the executive sessions, discussion is limited to JFC members and LFB and State Budget Office staff. There is no testimony. Prior to each executive session, LFB prepares issue papers on the issue sets JFC has posted for executive session. The “budget papers” present background information, outline the governor’s proposed changes and layout options for consideration. JFC members can also draft budget motions for consideration.

Internally, majority JFC members are assigned specific areas of focus in the budget process. Those members usually run point on these issue sets. For instance, like last budget, Rep. Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) will focus on tax and transportation issues. Sen. Olsen, the longtime chair of the Senate Committee on Education, is the lead on most education issues.

JFC typically begins executive sessions voting on smaller agencies budgets as they are less contentious. The big budget items – Medicaid, Transportation, Taxes and Education – tend to be last.

Because the fiscal year ends on June 30, it is ideal to wrap JFC’s review of the budget in May. This session, legislative leaders in both houses are already projecting very different budget timelines. Speaker Vos commented that he is prepared for the budget to drag into the fall. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald predicted the budget will be finished much sooner, hopefully by July 4.

Regardless of the specific dates, the JFC modifications are incorporated in a substitute amendment and sent to the full legislature for floor votes in each house.

The legislative process and the governor’s review can take another month before a final budget is signed in to law.

Based on the legislative leaders predictions, it is fair to assume we could see a budget bill signing in July or as late as November.