Steineke: Agency Wish Lists and Our Biennial Tradition

November 28, 2016

By Rep. Jim Steineke
Assembly Majority Leader

As we near Thanksgiving, we often think about traditions. Part of what makes this time of year so special are the routines we hold dear – carving the turkey, breaking the wishbone. However some traditions, like being the one stuck with the dishes, are not as enjoyable. Unfortunately we also have to humor another tiresome tradition around this time every two years: the unfounded worry that Wisconsin is running out of money.

You may have seen reports that Wisconsin is facing a $693 million shortfall based on agency requests and revenue projections. You may recall seeing the same story a few years ago, with a $2.2 billion figure attached. That number even made its way onto during the Presidential Primary. I’ll wager that two years from now you’ll be seeing the same headline. So, when you do, here’s what you need to know:

State agencies begin the budget process by requesting funding from the Governor. To continue with our holiday thinking, this is a “wish list.” As you go shopping for the items on your family’s wish lists, you may see items ranging from gift cards to new watches to new phones. Weighing your income against the cost of these items, you may spring for the watch or gift cards and leave the phone for another day. This is how the state will treat these budget requests. Choosing to not fulfill a shopping request does not mean that you have run out of money, just as choosing to fund only portions of an agency request does not mean Wisconsin is going to come up short.

It is also important to remember that Wisconsin, by law, is required to have a balanced budget. Assembly Republicans have a track record of going above and beyond this constitutional requirement, ending last session with a $131 million balance. The budget also reduced bonding to its lowest level in 20 years and maintained the largest rainy day fund in Wisconsin’s history, with $280 million. Going forward, we are committed to protecting K-12 and higher education, finding a sustainable solution to transportation funding, and making government as efficient as possible.

The budget process is long and we as lawmakers do our best to give our state programs opportunities to succeed while managing your tax dollars responsibly. It is important to stay informed of these agency requests, because they signal priorities and set the framework for the eventual budget’s passage next summer. Just remember to take them for what they are, and not get too lost in the weeds. There are many better traditions to focus on this holiday season.