State budget process picks up speed with bright prospects ahead

Joe Leibham • 9th Senatorial District

Last week the legislature began its work on the 2013-15 state budget when Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal was formally introduced for consideration. While this is the first time legislators and members of the public have an opportunity to review this initial budget proposal, work on the budget has been taking place for months. Below is a brief description of how Wisconsin’s budget process works, from initial development until final passage. I hope this information will be a helpful guide as the legislature discusses this important issue over the next several months.

Wisconsin’s budget is based on a two-year cycle, called a biennium, stretching from July 1 of oddnumbered years through June 30 of even-numbered years. Therefore, the current budget (passed in June, 2011) lasts from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013. In preparation for the beginning of the next biennium, state agencies begin evaluating their departments and staff in the summer, or even before, of even-numbered years. Agency managers attempt to determine what costs and staff they will need for the next biennium. Agencies also work to suggest necessary changes to the programs that they administer during this time.

By the fall of even numbered years, the Governor requires each of the agencies to formalize a funding request for their specific agencies for the biennium and submit these to his office. Once the Governor receives these requests, he can begin analyzing them and considering how they will fit together with each other and with additional funding priorities he may have that will need to be accounted for. The Governor typically spends from late fall of evennumbered years through February of odd-numbered years considering these requests and developing his recommended budget.

In February, the Governor will formally introduce his suggested budget for consideration by the legislature. This happened on February 20th. While the Governor has significant discretion to develop the budget according to his own ideas, there is one major restriction- Article VIII, Section 5 of Wisconsin’s constitution requires that the budget is balanced. Unlike the federal government, Wisconsin cannot run consistent budget deficits.

When the Governor introduces his budget, he usually starts this process by addressing both houses of the legislature, convened in a joint session. This is called the “budget address”, and is required under state law. During the budget address, the Governor highlights the major points of his budget to legislators and asks for their support.

Once the budget is introduced and the Governor’s budget address is given, the bill is referred to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) for initial legislative consideration. As a member of this committee, I have the unique responsibility of participating in early discussions related to legislative changes that may be proposed to the budget. First, members of the JFC will spend several weeks looking through all of the specific parts of the budget as proposed by the Governor and receiving input on its various provisions from constituents, fiscal analysts, attorneys, and other legislators. I hope to soon announce a series of budget input sessions in the 9th Senate District to help me in this regard.

Next, JFC will receive briefings from each of the state agencies affected by the budget. This will give individual agency representatives the chance to comment on the specific portions of the budget affecting them. After this, JFC will hold several public hearings at various locations around the state. While I and other legislators will be holding our own listening sessions in our individual districts, these public hearings give individuals the chance to address all 16 members of the JFC at one time. These public hearings are typically day-long events with hundreds of members of the public testifying.

Following the public hearing process, JFC will begin to vote on changes to the budget bill. Members of JFC are able to suggest changes to the bill, called “motions”, which are then voted on by the entire committee. JFC will consider motions suggested by various members throughout April, May, and June of this year. Once all changes to the bill have been suggested and either approved or rejected, JFC holds a vote to pass the full budget bill out of committee. Once JFC approves a budget, it will go to the full State Assembly and then State Senate for consideration. After the budget receives approval by the legislature, the final step is for the Governor to sign the bill into law. This is expected to occur in late June, right before the beginning of the next biennium. As with other bills, the Governor can veto all or part of the budget.

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