After a two-month break, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) have resumed their work on the state budget. JFC met on August 24 and 28 to vote on some outstanding issues including Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Public Instruction (DPI). JFC will meet again on Tuesday, September 5, to finish up their work, taking up taxes and the most contentious budget area – transportation.
Gov. Scott Walker said last week that the Senate and Assembly were moving toward a tentative agreement on transportation that includes $400 million in new borrowing and a $100 per year hybrid electric vehicle fee, with no increases in the gas tax or vehicle registration fees. However, no transportation deal has been confirmed. More news of a hybrid electric vehicle fee continued this week, with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau projecting that a $100 per year fee would provide $7.6 million, once annualized, of additional revenue.
Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) also put forward two revenue-creating motions for JFC to take up on transportation in order to ensure the I-94 East/West project stays on schedule. The motions would add a $15 surcharge for moving traffic violations and increase the fee for reinstating a revoked operating privilege for driving without a license. Together, the motions would add $7.7 million over the biennium.
After Tuesday’s scheduled business is completed, the only remaining item is the infamous 999 motion. In spring, just when JFC was beginning their work, the co-chairs said they hoped to have a more limited 999 motion. Since then, little has been said on if the catch-all final budget motion will be a pared version or not.
After the 999, the budget would then go first to the Assembly, likely on September 14.
August 24 Executive Session
The majority of JFC’s August 24 executive session was spent on DNR. Under DNR, JFC approved Walker’s proposed reorganization that moves both air and water quality under a single Environmental Management program, separates administration, technology, and customer assistance into two programs (Internal and External Services), and creates a Fish, Wildlife, and Parks program and a Forestry program. The reorganization would also eliminate the Bureau of Science Services and move its research positions under specific programs and would reduce the number of protective status positions. The reorganization motion also clarified that DNR wardens are the only DNR staff with arrest powers in state parks. Also under DNR, JFC approved the sunset of the forestry mill property tax.
In the August 24 session, JFC also took votes on items under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Public Defender, Department of Revenue, and Department of Corrections.
August 28 Executive Session
On August 28, JFC took up the Building Commission and Building Program and DPI. In an omnibus motion on the Building Commission and Building Program, JFC unanimously approved several projects including renovations to UW system schools and a renovation for the capitol basement.
The DPI omnibus motion included a $639 million funding increase for K-12 schools ($10 million less than Walker’s proposal) and an expansion of income eligibility for the private school choice program. The motion includes $9 million in grants for personal computing devices for ninth grade students across the state. The motion would also limit school district referenda to regularly scheduled election days, among other provisions.