Gov. Tony Evers released his proposed 2019-21 state budget on Feb. 28, officially beginning the biennial budget process. The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has introduced the governor’s budget bill as SB 59/AB 56 and is now waiting for the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to prepare its budget papers, which will guide JFC’s review and voting.
Next, JFC will hold agency briefings before traveling across the state for public hearings. JFC has sent out a tentative schedule of agency briefings on April 3 and 4, then four public hearings in the Janesville, Milwaukee, River Falls/Hudson, and Green Bay areas throughout the rest of April. This schedule would likely push the first JFC budget votes to May, putting the budget on a typical track to finish by the June 30 deadline. (However, note that in 2017 JFC took its first votes on May 1 but did not wrap up until September.)
While JFC has not yet said whether it will work off of Evers’s proposal, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has noted that Evers’s budget contains nonstarters for his caucus, such as Medicaid expansion, repeal of right to work, and tax increases, making it unlikely they will work from Evers’s proposal in its entirety. If JFC does not use Evers’s budget, they will work from the base budget, i.e. the current fiscal year (FY 19) appropriation (more information on the 2017-19 budget).
It is expected LFB will provide a list of non-fiscal policy for JFC. Historically, the co-chairs of JFC have decided to pull out the non-fiscal policy items in the budget. In the 2017-19 budget, 83 items were identified as non-fiscal policy. According to LFB, since 1993, there have been an average of 64 non-fiscal policy items identified, ranging from 12 to 150 across different proposed budgets.
JFC typically votes agency by agency, beginning with small, less contentious issues and working up to big budget items such as Medicaid, transportation, taxes, and education. After JFC finishes voting, the amended budget will move to the full legislature.
After the legislature passes a budget, Evers can use his partial veto to eliminate or reduce the Republican legislature’s spending proposals. If Evers chooses to veto the budget entirely, Wisconsin law allows the state to operate on the budget of the previous biennium. Unlike the federal budget process, neither the governor nor legislature will be faced with the threat of a government shutdown if no new budget is signed into law.
Vos has stated that he believes the legislature will pass a budget by the June 30 deadline. However, it is unclear if a budget compromise would be passed or signed that quickly under a Republican legislature and Democratic governor. Note that in 2017, with Republicans controlling both branches of government, the budget did not pass until September. Only five out of 21 budgets in the last 42 years have been signed on time. It’s unsure whether Wisconsin’s current divided government is likely to come to an agreement on deadline, but only time will tell.