JFC Agency Briefings: Day Three

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 Thursday, March 30, legislators heard from the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Wisconsin Technical College System, the University of Wisconsin System, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the Historical Society, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC).

PSC Chairwoman Ellen Nowak spoke to legislators about broadband expansion, intervenor compensation and the stray voltage program. Nowak also spoke on Operation Dark Sky, a Department of Military Affairs program to prepare a state response to a disruption of electrical power and communications in case of a cyberattack. Nowak also discussed Focus on Energy, a program that adds resources for energy efficiency projects for schools.

Lawmakers then questioned DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. Democrats on the committee asked Stepp about the removal of information on climate change from the DNR website. Stepp defended the move, saying that she wanted to remove DNR from the debate. Democrats also asked Stepp about DNR’s reduced regulation of high capacity wells, but Stepp argued that DNR has been following restrictions of DNR’s authority put in place by the legislature in 2011. (More high capacity wells legislation [link] is currently moving through the legislature.)

Lawmakers also questioned Stepp on the budget’s proposed elimination of DNR’s Natural Resources magazine. While Stepp said that subscribers would instead be able to find content online, some legislators worried that many Wisconsin residents do not have Internet access. Stepp’s testimony also addressed the use of raised park fees instead of GPR to fund state parks, moving DNR’s forestry headquarters to northern Wisconsin and the issue of contaminated drinking water that Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) labeled a “public health crisis” and the issue of removing lead pipes.

Lawmakers ended the JFC briefings with questions for LIRC Commissioner Laurie McCallum. Gov. Walker’s budget proposes the elimination of LIRC and transfer of its responsibilities to DWD and DOA administrators. However, McCallum expressed concern about the increased cost elimination would put on businesses and employees who would be forced to go to court instead of settling through LIRC. Legislators questioned McCallum about LIRC’s case load, staffing levels and cost-effectiveness.

JFC Agency Briefings: Day One

JFC Agency Briefings: Day Two