And some things you don't, but are interesting anyway…
We are still weeks away from the November election. The Wisconsin State Legislature adjourned the 2017-2018 legislative session only a few months ago. Representatives for the 2019-2020 legislative session are still a quarter of a year away from even taking the oath of office. We aren't even sure who the next governor is going to be. Yet right now, Governor Scott Walker and his administration are making the preparations to introduce the next budget to be in place for July 1, 2019. In Wisconsin, the wheels of government seem to never stop churning.
The Wisconsin budget process is significantly different than the process at the federal level. For starters, the state constitution requires the governor and legislature to pass a balanced budget. While this clearly has not always been the result—due to budget gimmicks and economic growth estimates that do not always pan out—at least on paper the numbers must balance.
Additionally, Wisconsin operates on a two-year budget cycle while the U.S. Government, when actually able to agree, operates on a one-year budget. The two-year budget cycle has worked so well for Wisconsin and other states that former Congressman Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) authored legislation to change the federal budget to a biennial one. While his bill passed out of committee in the House with a bipartisan vote in March 2015, it failed to gain further traction.
Further, the budget process starts with the executive branch rather than the lower house of the legislature. This is where we find ourselves now. Governor Walker has issued his budget instructions to the various departments of government. Walker has instructed state agencies to assume there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations. In other words, he wants agencies to submit budget requests that are not any higher than their budgets were two years ago, even though inflation and other factors have pushed costs up. Some areas are exempt from the freeze including state support for K-12 schools, Medicaid, and employment services for those with disabilities, among others.
Agencies will submit budget requests to the Department of Administration for review in the fall. Should Governor Walker lose in November, the Democrat who replaces him will have a significantly shorter timeline to fill the budget with his/her priorities. While many agencies' budgets do not change whether it is a Democrat or Republican governor, the larger agencies are often more susceptible to political calculations to determine their budget.
Whoever the governor is, they will submit their final budget to the legislature early in 2019, kicked off by a joint address to both the Assembly and Senate. That very night, the Joint Committee on Finance will convene and officially vote to introduce the budget and begin the legislature's voice in the process.
The biennial budget is the single most important piece of legislation that passes during the two-year session. This massive document contains the vast majority of the fiscal and non-budgetary policy changes that affect you. As you consider items to include, change, or remove as more details are put forth over the next six months and beyond, be sure to let your government relations team know! Contact me anytime at 608-441-1215 or via email.