Budget Basics: We the People Front & Center

Budget Basics: We the People Front & Center

Every two years, the state legislature embarks on the tedious and complex task of passing a state budget that will determine how our taxpayer money is spent over the next two years. If there’s anything that should put the best interest of the people front and center, it’s the state’s budget.

It’s instructive under a “we the people” form of government to understand budget basics. First, in the fall before the budget is introduced, the governor requests from all departments and agencies their budgets. From there, the governor and his advisers determine, in keeping with the governor’s priorities, an “executive budget,” which is then given to the state legislature.

Once the Governor’s budget is introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly, it goes to Joint Finance Committee, which is currently comprised of 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats, reflecting the strong majorities Republicans have in both houses. This committee then, in late February and early March conducts briefings for the various agencies to come and give their opinions of the proposals.

Following these briefings, usually in mid to late March, this committee typically holds at least four public hearings around the state for citizens to give citizens an opportunity to speak up about the proposed budget.

While the Joint Finance Committee is getting all this information from the affected agencies and the public, the legislators are busy looking at what they would like to keep, add, change, or delete from the Governor’s proposed budget. Through a system that changes with the various leadership teams in the state legislature, individual elected representatives and senators are able to communicate their wishes to the members of the Joint Finance Committee.

Generally, by May the Joint Finance Committee has begun holding a series of Executive Sessions in which they vote on individual sections of the budget. The goal is to have a new version of the budget ready by the end of May or early June at the latest for the full Assembly and Senate to vote on and eventually for the governor to make vetoes and ultimately sign. State law says the new two-year budget needs to be in place by June 30 in order to have it in effect for the beginning of the state’s fiscal year on July 1.

So maybe that civics lesson was a bit tedious for you. Honestly, it shouldn’t be. We are talking about our money—and how it’s going to be spent. This year, we’re looking at about $70 billion of our money being allocated over the next two years. We ought to care about the process! In this case, our ignorance is definitely not bliss and can be dangerous.

Of course it’s impossible to give you significant detail about the budget in this format. But I can tell you about a few things not included and some of what is included in the education area.

Our organization pushed hard to get the marriage penalty removed in the tax code, along with pushing to get the same-sex-only statewide domestic partnership registry removed since with the courts legalizing marriage between persons of the same sex, this registry is both unnecessary and discriminatory against heterosexuals. Another domestic partnership registry should also be removed, the one for state employees in heterosexual or homosexual relationships in which taxpayer-funded health insurance is made available to the unmarried domestic partner.  As of this writing, to the best of my knowledge, none of these is removed.

In the school choice area, we do have some good news. Among some other smaller changes, the voucher program will be extended statewide with the cap being 1% of any school district’s total school population the first year, increased by 1% each year for 10 years, with no cap at all by year 11. In addition, where the governor had proposed a drop in the amount of the voucher for each student, this new budget would actually modestly increase the amount for each of the next two years.

As we know, the devil is often in the details. And that’s certainly true of a $70 billion 1800 page budget bill. At a minimum, what we should expect as the ones footing the bill is wise stewardship—which means setting aside pet projects and personal or political agendas. It means not pandering to people or groups who fund election campaigns. It’s time to put we the people first—and it’s time for we the people to hold our elected officials accountable.  It’s not too late to call your representative and senator and ask them if they believe the budget they are getting ready to vote on puts the best interest of the taxpayers front and center.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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