JFC Executive Actions – Week 4

Environmental Improvement Fund, Telecommunications for Schools, IT Consolidation, Legal Services, Property Tax, Public Works, School Levy Tax 

The Joint Finance Committee continues to work their way through the governor’s budget. Below are the highlights of JFC votes from this week. Read last week’s JFC actions here.

Environmental Improvement Fund

The Environmental Improvement Fund includes two environmental financing programs for local governments: the Clean Water Fund Program (CWFP) and the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP). This week, JFC voted on a number provisions relating to CWFP and SDWLP.

SDWLP Bonding Authority: The governor proposed to increase general obligation bonding authority of $7.5 million. This represents the estimated 20% state match over 3 years of $48 million in federal funds ($16 million annual federal grants). JFC voted (14-2) instead to increase bonding authority by $5.3 million, which is based on a federal funding level of $37.7 million over two years, instead of three years.

Program Structure Changes: The governor’s budget makes several changes to the clean water program fund (which includes the SDWLP and the recycling land program). JFC voted (12-4) to adopt the governor’s proposal and eliminate the present value subsidy limit used to determine the subsidy amount (includes changing the maximum amount of present value subsidy per municipality to a specified percentage, changing the term to financial assistance instead of subsidy, and requiring DOA and DNR to determine if the amount of funding available is sufficient and if not develop a priority funding list).

CWFP Eligibility for Unsewered Areas: The governor’s proposal requires that in order for the municipality to be eligible for a reduced interest rate under the CWFP, two-thirds of the initial wastewater flow for a new wastewater collection systems be from residences that were in existence for 20 years prior to the application’s submissions date to DNR. JFC took no action on this item; therefore, the governor’s proposal is adopted.

SDWLP Eligibility for Certain Private-Owned Systems: The governor’s budget expanded eligibility under the SDWLP to private owners of community water systems and nonprofit noncommunity water systems. JFC voted unanimously to expand eligibility instead to just private owners of community water system for a municipality. In addition, JFC voted maintain eligibility of the principal forgiveness component of the program and not expand it to private owners.

Consolidation of Telecommunications and IT Appropriations

JFC voted on DOA’s PR appropriations for information technology and telecommunications services to state agencies, and ultimately rejected the governor’s proposal for the services.

The governor proposed to consolidate two separate annual PR appropriations that the DOA maintains: the first for providing printing, mail, communication and information technology; and the second, for telecommunications services to state agencies and veterans’ services. JFC voted 12-4 to not consolidate the two appropriations and to reduce the annual appropriation for telecommunication services to $8 million PR. This reduction was made in part because of a previous proposal JFC denied, which involved transferring all full-time information technology positions in most agencies to DOA and consolidating IT services there.

Telecommunication access for Educational Agencies, Digital Learning Collaborative and Educational Technology Grants

Rep. Czaja (R-) offered a motion that passed unanimously to make several changes to funding under the technology for educational achievement (TEACH) program. Under the motion, funding from the Universal Service Fund (USF) appropriation would be redirected for school districts ($2 million in 2015-16, and $1 million in 2016-17) to support the state’s digital learning collaborative, established by the Department of Instruction. The digital learning collaborative includes the statewide web academy and the delivery of digital content.

The motion also established a block grant program to be administered by DOA for school districts to access funding for information technology infrastructure. No more than $7.5 million SEG will be expended each year for the block grant funds, which will be used for equipment, planning, installation and school readiness to use the technology infrastructure. Grant funding will be dedicated to applicant school districts whose membership in the previous school year divided by the school district’s area in square miles is 13 or less. Lastly, the motion allows DOA to provide grants to a consortia of three or more school districts for the cost of training teachers on the use of educational technology.

Legal Services for Low Income Families

One of the few 16-0 motions that passed in Joint Finance Committee action yesterday was the inclusion of $500,000 annually for a grant program that will provide civil legal services to low income families with civil legal needs related to domestic abuse, sexual assault abuse and individuals at risk because of this abuse. The motion was offered by Rep. Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and JFC co-chair, Sen. Darling (R-River Hills). Wisconsin was one of a handful of states that did not provide any assistance to low income families for civil legal needs.

Property Tax Bill

The governor’s budget included a provision that would expand the amount of the information to be included on the property tax bill extensively. Legislators deleted the governor’s proposal and Rep. Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) offered a motion for alternative changes to the information on a property tax bill. Under the motion, property tax bills will include the total amount of tax levied in the current year and the amount of tax levied on the property in the current year, both of which are the result of a referendum to exeed the school revenue limit, the technical college revenue limit, or the county and municipal levy limit on a non-permanent basis. This requirement is extended to towns where a vote to exceed the level limit was adopted at an annual or special town meeting. The information must be includes on a separate section of the tax bill from the billing information and would go into effect for tax bills issued in December 2015 and after.

Local Public Works Projects

JFC took up a motion this week that would change the thresholds for lowest responsible bidder requirements for public works contracts. Current law states that public works contracts entered into by a technical college district board, public library system board, county, town, village, or second-, third-, or fourth-class city must take lowest responsible bidder if the project cost exceeds $25,000. JFC voted 12-4 on a party line vote to change the project cost threshold to $100,000. Also, the motion explicitly states that public works contracts that are less than $100,000 do not have to go to the lowest responsible bidder.

School Levy Tax Credit Held for Later Date

JFC was scheduled to vote on the school levy tax credit increase that was proposed in the governor’s budget, but decided to delay the vote for a later date. Should JFC approve the governor’s proposal, Wisconsin tax payers would receive over $105 million in property tax relief.

JFC will be back in action next week to tackle several big-ticket items including the Department of Corrections, public school funding, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and transportation funding. JFC hopes to wrap up voting on the budget by the end of the month.