Budgets should be policy neutral

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

Wisconsin’s state budget and its budget process is rather interesting. In most years, after some heated discussion and finger pointing, most policy is taken out of the budget leaving mainly the fiscal items. It is the only bill that must pass in the legislature’s two-year session because it pays all the bills including Department of Agriculture, prison systems, Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin system, Technical Schools, aids to local units of government, and so much more. But if you can include a policy item or two into the budget, it could pass thus bypassing much of the needed committee work and public review.

Republicans and Democrats, over the years, could demand that the policy items be taken out because one party may have controlled the Assembly, Senate, or Governorship. The group in the weakest position would claim it was poor policy or bad government to slip policy items through the budget because the public would not be well represented. They would present their position as one of “good government”.

Well, this Wisconsin budget season is different. Both the state Assembly, state Senate and governorship is strongly held by Republicans. And, you guess it, the budget is now overflowing with special interest policy. Those who had in the past called for taking policy out of the budget have ei- ther joined policy feast or say they are against it but are unable to stop it.

Let me provide a few examples of policy items that are being promoted by legislators for special interest groups. You may be shocked. These special interest proposals is being fed through the Joint Finance Committee, which includes 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats.

- Rent to own: This group is pressing for removal of the state requirement that they list the full cost for renting to own. They feel listing the full and real cost of the purchases scares off potential buyers. It is clearly an attack on the poorest and least educated in our society.

- Bail Bonders: This group wants to legally set up private bail bonders, likely adding to the overall cost of services and opposed by most professionals in the field.

- Selling state lands and buildings: There is a proposal to have the Wisconsin Building Commission be given the power to sell state buildings and land without legislative oversight. It could mean selling of state power plants (such as at University of Wisconsin campuses), land items donated to the state, items purchased by student fees (such as dorms) and use the money to pay down debt or other unstated uses. The governor has strong oversight of the Wisconsin Building Commission. It’s a very bad idea not to have some oversight and control by the legislature. My guess is this proposal is being promoted by people with financial interests.

- 150 elk to Wisconsin: This Joint Finance Committee proposal would allow bringing in 150 elk from outside Wisconsin without a strong safety review for disease control. With a major problem caused by the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease to Wisconsin’s deer herd from animals introduced from outside the state, it is a terrible idea. There are well known methods of dealing with the introduction of animals and it includes a strong peer review - not 10 minute discussion the Joint Finance Committee. Wisconsin’s farm community should be up in arms over this proposal. These are but a few of the proposals being pushed but there are many more.

Policy items need the light of day, committee hearings by both houses of the legislature, review by the press and professionals, and a chance for the public to speak. What is taking place and promoted by special interests groups is bad public policy and needs to stop.

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