The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) met for three days this week to hear testimony from state agencies on the governor’s proposed budget. Legislators posed questions to the department secretaries on the implementation of budget proposals and asked other questions pertaining to agency services.
On Tuesday, March 28, legislators heard from the Department of Administration (DOA), the Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF), the Elections Commission, the Supreme Court, the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).
The hearings kicked off with the DOA Secretary Scott Neitzel. Legislators questioned Neitzel on the governor’s $6.1 billion transportation budget and the projected $1 billion transportation budget shortfall.
Lawmakers on the committee also expressed concern about the governor’s proposal to move state employees to a self-insurance program model. Legislators including JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) were wary of the risk of tying uncertain savings from the self-insurance plan to K-12 school funding. Neitzel defended the proposal, arguing that the administration’s cost savings estimates are reliable and that disruptions to employees’ health plans would be minimal.
JFC members of both parties continued to criticize the self-insurance model in their questioning of ETF officials. ETF Secretary Bob Conlin and Office of Strategic Health Policy director Lisa Ellinger testified that the move to self-insurance would reduce costs for both the state and its employees and improve quality of care, while allowing 98 percent of employees to keep their current providers. Ellinger said that while the move to self-insurance would increase risk to the state, ETF would be able to mitigate the risks.
Lawmakers continued to express concern about the reliability of cost estimates and the risks involved in switching to self-insurance. Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) cited a previous study that showed the state could end up losing $100 million in the move. Lawmakers including Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) were wary of potential job loss at insurance companies who would lose customers under the plan. JFC co-chair Rep. Nygren questioned the ETF officials on the potential that self-insurance could shut out the local governments currently working with the state to provide health insurance to their employees.
Lawmakers later heard from Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack. Roggensack asked JFC to reconsider the governor’s budgetary proposals regarding judicial compensation and the reallocation of the Judicial Commission and the Judicial Council under the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roggensack recommended that the Judicial Commission and Judicial Council remain separate agencies because the transfer would create potential for conflicts of interest and would not save money.
JFC members next heard from DOC Secretary Jon Litscher. Lawmakers’ questioned Litscher about the Lincoln Hills youth facility. Litscher focused on the budgeted proposals, highlighted new training programs for staff and other improvements including a revised youth complaint process and the addition of a staff nurse.
Ending the first day of hearings, legislators heard from DSPS Secretary Laura Gutierrez about occupational licensing and the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program dataset, among other issues. JFC co-chair Rep. Nygren agreed with Gutierrez that Wisconsin has a high number of licensures compared to other states, but—along with other legislators—expressed concern about the budget’s proposed elimination of some regulatory boards, including the boards that oversee radiography, podiatry and optometry.