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 Wednesday, March 29, legislators heard from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), the Department of Health Services (DHS), the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Revenue (DOR), the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Attorney General Brad Schimel started off the day with his testimony on DOJ’s budget. Schimel’s testimony emphasized his budget priorities of IT modernization, fighting the opioid epidemic and keeping up with the accumulation of untested sexual assault kits across the state. The Democrat JFC members used the opportunity to critically question Schimel on a variety of issues, including the testing of sexual assault kits and Schimel’s 2016 opinion on high capacity wells regulation. Republican lawmakers focused their questioning on funding DOJ programs such as treatment and diversion programs and overtime for beat patrol officers.
The committee later heard from DHS Secretary Linda Seeymeyer, who addressed issues including health care costs, Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin Works for Everyone initiative and combating the opioid epidemic. Seemeyer agreed with a suggestion from Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) that DHS should ask the Trump administration to approve previously denied DHS waivers for Medicaid changes. Seemeyer was confident that the new administration will give the state more flexibility on Medicaid. In response to questions from Democrats on the committee, Seemeyer defended Gov. Scott Walker’s choice not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers also questioned Seemeyer about whether the state should boost long-term care funding and reimbursement rates for providers in Medicaid.
JFC members ended the night with questions for DOT Secretary Dave Ross regarding what has already been a contentious debate about the governor’s proposal to address the state’s $1 billion transportation shortfall by bonding. Ross defended Walker’s plan that he said prioritizes local roads over mega projects. Republicans on the committee, including JFC vice-chair Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), said the budget fails to provide a long-term solution to funding roads. Rep. Kooyenga said legislators need to seriously consider increasing taxes and fees to address the shortfall, despite Gov. Walker’s promise to veto a gas tax increase. Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) later confirmed that Senate Republicans would not override the veto.