Yes, please, keep the state budget clean

THE LEADERS OF THE Legislature’s Finance Committee say they want a clean state budget.

So do we.

So should all Wisconsin citizens who value an open and careful process for spending $76 billion of taxpayer money.

Joint Finance Committee leaders Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said they hope to avoid any last-minute surprises while wrapping up work on the state budget in the coming weeks. Specifically, they said their committee is trying to avoid the introduction of what’s known as a 999 budget motion.

Good. And instead of just trying, they should make absolutely sure that a bunch of non-fiscal policy isn’t slipped into the budget at the last minute to avoid public scrutiny and input.

Nygren, Darling and their budget committee in April impressively purged all 83 policy proposals from Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year state spending plan. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau had identified the items as having little or nothing to do with spending money.

The governor had included language in his budget that would have allowed local governments to bury meeting minutes and other public notices on obscure government websites, rather than in newspapers and on a searchable website where people would actually see the information. The governor’s budget also sought to make Wisconsin the only state without a minimum number of hours required for educating children. And he tried to eliminate several boards while making significant changes to the private school voucher program.

If those are such good ideas, surely they can withstand the scrutiny of public hearings and specific votes as separate pieces of legislation. They shouldn’t be hidden in a massive state spending plan.

To its credit, the Joint Finance Committee became the first budget panel in more than a decade to remove all non-fiscal policy from a governor’s budget last month. Now the challenge is to keep the policy out as lawmakers wrap up their amendments.

The last thing lawmakers and their constituents need is a repeat of two years ago, when the Joint Finance Committee stuffed dozens of policy changes into the budget on the eve of the July 4 weekend, hoping to dodge attention.

Instead, the sneaky maneuver triggered tremendous public backlash because it included language that would have decimated Wisconsin’s open records law. The committee quickly reversed course, with some members apologizing.

Nygren and Darling were saying all of the right things about avoiding a repeat of that fiasco.

We hope the committee has learned its lesson and understands the public wants a clean budget without controversial policy that has no fiscal effect. — Wisconsin State Journal, May 28

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