UPDATED: A Citizen’s Guide to the State Budget

May 11, 2015

by Matt Crumb and Nick Novak

Wisconsin legislators were given some unexpected news last week in a memo from the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB). The memo informed Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Finance, that LFB would not be adjusting the revenue estimates that were released in January.

This means that legislators will not have any additional funds to plug so-called budget holes. Members from both sides of the aisle hoped new revenue would go toward eliminating a small cut to K-12 education in the first year of the budget, reducing transportation bonding and lessening the cut to the University of Wisconsin System.

However, with revenue projections staying static, legislators will have to look to spending cuts in other areas if they hope to follow through on their priorities. One such cut passed last week was the removal of funding for the Confluence Project in Eau Claire – saving $15 million.

Additional cuts will need to be found to fill the $127 million funding reduction for schools in fiscal year 2016 (FY16).

In terms of transportation spending, some legislators have floated the idea of revenue enhancers like an increase in the gas tax or registration fees. What has not been talked about is eliminating unneeded projects that cost taxpayers millions.

And at this point, the UW System may have to endure its $150 million funding reduction – a small cut considering its $6 billion annual budget and billions of dollars in assets. The legislature does plan to remove Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal that would make UW into its own public authority, which would have given the System flexibility to make up for the cuts.

While the state budget is still largely similar to what was proposed by the governor, many major changes are expected in the coming weeks. If you haven’t been paying attention to the budget process, now is the time to start.

Before JFC starts voting on the biggest items in the budget, click here to read our updated Citizen’s Guide to the State Budget.