JFC Takes First Executive Action on State Budget

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) held its first executive session this week on Governor Walker’s proposed 2015-2017 state budget. The committee took action in a number of areas, including the Secretary of State, the Public Service Commission (PSC), State Treasurer, Department of Revenue-Lottery Administration, Department of Administration – Division of Gaming, the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts, Court of Appeals, Judicial Council, Judicial Commission and Employment Relations Commission.

On March 6, The Hamilton Consulting Group prepared a summary of the proposals made by Governor Walker for the state judiciary.

In the state judiciary budget, JFC rejected a number of Governor Walker’s proposals this week, including his proposal to eliminate the Judicial Council and reallocating appropriations of the Judicial Commission. In addition, the JFC took action on proposed block grants for the Supreme Court and Circuit Court.

Supreme Court Block Grant: JFC approved the governor’s proposal, on a party line vote, to consolidate GPR appropriations for the director of state courts and the state law library under the Director of State Courts and Law Library general program operations appropriation, funded at $10.3 million general purpose revenue (GPR) each fiscal year. The governor recommends these appropriations be changed from annual to biennial. However, the proposed consolidation of these appropriations does not include a decrease in revenue to these programs. Furthermore, the governor recommends transferring the appropriation for library collections and services to the Director of State Courts and Law Library general program operations appropriation. The block grant system is designed to give supreme court justices more flexibility to determine how to spend its appropriation.

Circuit Court Block Grant: JFC voted to approve the governor’s recommendation to create a circuit court block grant that would create individual appropriations from court interpreter fees, circuit court support payments and guardian ad litem costs. JFC modified the governor’s proposal slightly by delaying the consolidation of the appropriations until the second year of the biennium in order to provide the Director of State Courts time to determine how to implement the changes.

Also, following the governor’s initial budget recommendations it was revealed the budget did not include full funding increases and related costs provided for 278 court reporter positions. JFC resolved the error unanimously, and deleted the governor’s recommendation and maintained current law to provide funding for the court reporters.

Elimination of Surcharge Exemptions: Currently there are various exemptions from the civil clerk fee and justice information fee for failure to wear a seatbelt, smoking in a public place, failure to carry proof of motor vehicle insurance and failure to carry a handicap permit. The governor’s budget proposes to eliminate these exemptions in order to generate more revenue. JFC voted unanimously to delete the governor’s proposal from the budget.

Judicial Council: JFC voted 15-1 to reject the governor’s proposal to eliminate the Judicial Council. The JFC did change the council’s funding source.  The council is funded jointly through GPR and the supreme court’s program revenue (PR) appropriation.  The JFC voted instead to fund the council through the court’s PR appropriation. 

Judicial Commission: JFC unanimously approved rejecting the governor’s proposal to move the appropriations of the Judicial Commission under the Supreme Court’s purview.

Broadband Expansion Grants: The governor’s budget proposes to change the broadband expansion grants appropriation from a continuing appropriation to a biennial appropriation and authorizes the use of the universal serve fund revenues to fund the grant program. Currently, grant expenditures of up to $500,000 annually from a continuing appropriation, but the governor’s proposal would set the appropriation amount at $6 million biennially.

A motion put forward by Representative Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) and Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) modified the governor’s proposal by providing $1.5 million each year for four years, until 2018-19, on top of providing $6 million out of the universal service fund for broadband projects. The motion was passed by JFC 16-0.

Funding for State Broadband Office: The governor’s budget proposed to increase expenditure authority of the PSC’s appropriation of the state broadband office by $250,000 PR annually. JFC passed a motion 15-1, put forward by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), which increases expenditure authority by $125,000, instead of the governor’s proposed $250,000 increase.

Wind Energy Health Study: The governor’s budget included a proposal to allocate no more than $250,000 PR in 2015-16 to study health issues related to wind energy systems. The PSC would be required to submit its report a little over one year after the biennial budget goes into effect. JFC voted to approve a motion that would require the PSC to review studies previously conducted to ascertain the health effects of industrial wind turbines on people residing near a wind turbine. Unlike the governor’s provision, the motion did not include an increase of any appropriations to the PSC.

JFC is meeting on Friday, April 17 to take hold another executive session on the budget. The agenda includes:

  • Department of Health Services – Medical Assistance – Administration
  • Office of the Commissioner of Insurance
  • Wisconsin Technical College System
  • Department of Military Affairs
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Board on Aging and Long Term Care
  • Board for People with Developmental Disabilities