The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has kicked off the budget process in the legislature by holding agency briefings this week. Inviting fewer agencies than usual, JFC heard testimony from six agencies over two days. Next, the committee will travel the state for four public hearings in April, then likely begin votes in May. Meanwhile, Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes are also holding public listening sessions on their proposed budget, so far in Stevens Point and Kenosha.
April 3 Agency Briefings
On the first day of agency briefings, JFC heard from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Department of Health Services (DHS).
DPI Secretary Carolyn Stanford Taylor’s testimony focused on solutions to fix achievement gaps, including increased student mental health funding, early childhood education, after school programming, and increased special education funding.
Republicans on the committee expressed concerns about the overall price tag of the proposed education budget and about Evers’s proposal to draw back school choice programs. JFC members also asked about proposals including two thirds state funding, local control of school districts, school administrator pay, and referendums, among other topics.
DOT Secretary Craig Thompson’s testimony said the governor’s budget is focused on repairing roads via increases in the State Highway Rehabilitation program and general transportation aides to counties. To fund these and other increases, Thompson highlighted the proposal to raise revenue by increasing title fees and increasing the gas tax to 8 cents per gallon, offset by eliminating the minimum markup requirement on fuel.
JFC Republicans expressed concerns about Evers’s proposal to reinstate prevailing wage for state and local projects of public works. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) noted in an interview that reinstating prevailing wage is “never going to happen.” Other topics discussed at the briefing included licenses for nondocumented immigrants, efficiency at DOT, and traffic counts on certain projects.
DHS Secretary Andrea Palm’s testimony said Gov. Evers’s budget proposal is “anchored in” Medicaid expansion. Palm also highlighted the proposed budget’s investments in increased provider reimbursement rates.
Republicans on the committee had concerns about how these provisions could shift cost to private sector insurance and create instability in the private market. Legislators also discussed with Palm topics including medical marijuana, opioids, dental access, and lead poisoning.
April 4 Agency Briefings
On the second day of agency briefings, JFC heard from the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), Department of Corrections (DOC), and Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman’s testimony highlighted provisions of Evers’s budget that would attract and retain employees in Wisconsin, including increased education funding, investment in broadband technology, a middle class tax cut, and a minimum wage increase. Frostman also discussed proposals to repeal right to work and reinstate prevailing wage, which Speaker Vos has deemed nonstarters for inclusion in the final budget. Next, Frostman mentioned Evers’s proposals to make significant changes to unemployment insurance and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Frostman’s testimony ended with a discussion of worker training initiatives such as $6 million for the Wisconsin Fast Forward program, which includes Youth Apprenticeship and Registered Apprenticeship programs.
JFC Republicans took issue with Evers’s plan to increase the minimum wage and argued instead that the DWD budget should focus on addressing Wisconsin’s workforce shortage and keeping businesses in Wisconsin.
DOC Secretary Kevin Carr’s testimony focused on decreasing the prison population in Wisconsin and reentry programs. Carr also discussed challenges related to health care for incarcerated individuals.
Legislators questioned Carr about issues including Lincoln Hills, marijuana decriminalization, reducing recidivism, and corrections staffing. Carr also said many other corrections reforms could be achieved outside of the budget process.
DNR Secretary Preston Cole’s testimony focused on Evers’s clean water proposals and highlighted the budget’s science-based decision making initiatives.
JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) asked Cole about DNR’s work related to PFAS chemicals. Cole said PFAS is a high priority for the department. The governor’s budget proposes two positions at DNR to research PFAS, as well as $150,000 GPR to develop a model to identify and prioritize sites with likely PFAS contamination and $50,000 to conduct a survey on emergency response use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam. Nygren has also introduced a bill (AB 85) that would require DHS to set state health-based groundwater quality standards for two types of PFAS: PFOA and PFOS within 90 days of the enactment of the bill.
Legislators also discussed with Cole issues including chronic wasting disease, CAFOs, lead service lines, DNR staff, and funding for other specific programs at DNR.
Public Hearing Dates
JFC public hearings
April 5 – Janesville
April 10 – Oak Creek
April 15 – River Falls
April 24 – Green Bay
Gov. Evers public hearings
April 3 – Stevens Point
April 10 – Kenosha