The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) met for three days this week to hear testimony from nearly all 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.
JFC members heard testimony from most agencies, however a few did not testify, including the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection , Department of Tourism, Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of State Employment Relations, Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and Public Service Commission.
Legislators began the agency budget briefings with Secretary Mike Huebsch from the Department of Administration (DOA). Legislators asked the secretary about the budget proposal for a new Bucks Arena, which would require $220 million in bonding. Legislators also asked about the plan to transfer the worker’s compensation office from the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI). Democratic legislators asked the secretary about the amount of state money spent on Governor Walker’s security detail while the governor is travelling around the country. Legislators also pressed Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mark Gottlieb later in the week on the issue as the governor’s protection unit is part of the DOT budget. Gottlieb responded that historically all security for all Wisconsin governors is paid for by the state.
During the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) briefing, Secretary Cathy Stepp testified that her priority is to operate a lean department. Some legislators questioned the secretary on what the agency is doing to be a partner for businesses working their way through the permit process. Stepp responded that the agency is currently developing an electronic permitting process that would let applicants know where their permit was in process. Legislators had a number of questions about the proposal to change the Natural Resources Board to an advisory council, the removal of a number of scientist positions in the budget and the possibility of selling the naming rights to state parks in the future.
Following the DNR briefing was the testimony from Secretary Reggie Newson of the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). The secretary highlighted the success of the Fast Forward worker training grant program and other workforce development initiatives. Legislators had several questions regarding the governor’s proposal for drug testing for public benefit recipients, including whether it was constitutional. Legislators also asked about changes in the worker’s compensation program.
Late Tuesday night JFC wrapped up the briefing with the testimony from Secretary Kitty Rhoades of the Department of Health Services (DHS). During the briefing Rhoades was asked about what the department’s response would be if federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act are found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the King v. Burwell case. Rhoades stated Wisconsin’s DHS would work with federal partners to fix the problem, if such a decision occurs. Rhoades was also asked if participants of SeniorCare would be removed from the program under the governor’s budget proposal. Rhoades responded that would not be the case and seniors would first need to sign up for Medicare Part D and would use SeniorCare, the state’s prescription drug program, as a supplement.
On the last day of JFC agency briefings the day kicked off with testimony from Secretary Mark Gottlieb from DOT. Legislators questioned Gottlieb on the high level of bonding that is included in the DOT budget. In addition, legislators asked Gottleib to discuss possible revenue sources to cover the state’s transportation costs, including if changes to prevailing wage will decrease the cost of transportation projects.
The last agency heads to testify at the briefings were Wyman Winston, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) and Reed Hall, the CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The governor’s budget proposes to merge these two agencies into one and much of the Wednesday night’s discussion was focused on whether the merger would be beneficial. Many of the questions to WEDC CEO Reed Hall centered on WEDC’s issue with turnover and reports on the agency’s responsiveness and compliance issues.
In the next step in the budget process, JFC will hold four public hearings across the state for the public to give their own testimony on the budget. After the public hearings, JFC will begin meeting several days each week through the end of May to take votes on various aspects of the bill. At the end of the JFC budget process, all JFC modifications to the governor’s bill are incorporated in a substitute amendment and sent to the full legislature for floor votes in each house.
The legislature generally takes the bill up in June and sends their final product to the governor by the end of the month. The governor completes veto review within 30 days of receiving the bill and then signs it into law.