June 28, 2023 | By MacIver Staff
Policy Issues
State Budget

Ten Ideas To Improve The 2023-25 Budget Before It Heads To The Governor

There's still time to address the Milwaukee Bailout Double-Cross and make the budget better.

It’s Not Too Late to Make the Budget Better!

The state Senate will go to the floor today to vote on the state budget, a historic document members will be briefed on (briefly) just before they go to the floor to cast their votes.

The Fiscal Bureau Summary, released late yesterday, provides the following information:

  • The 2023-25 JFC budget spends $99.34 billion, 11.7% over base
  • JFC increased all-funds spending by $10.3 billion over base
    • $5.2 billion GPR
    • $2.4 billion FED
    • $1.4 billion PR
    • $2.1 billion SEG
  • Compensation reserves (state employee compensation) increased by $1 billion
  • Bonding decreased by $985 million
  • The committee cut 794 positions (some, maybe most, were temporary COVID positions)
  • The GPR surplus at the end of the biennium is projected to be $483 million
  • JFC spends $6.7 billion (6.4%) less than Governor Evers’ proposed budget

The unprecedented, even historic, rush to get the budget voted out of the Senate before Thursday, leaves little time for senators to prepare floor amendments ( that leadership does not want) to improve the committee version of the 2-year spending plan. But the budget could be improved, and there is still time.

Here is our Top 10 list of ways the 2023-25 budget could be made better for taxpayers.

1. Press Pause: Pull Shared Revenue Funding and All Funds Going to Milwaukee

The legislature must not let stand the double-cross from Milwaukee leadership attempting to undo the terms of their bailout. (Unless it was part of the plan.) The shared revenue cash dump to communities across the state was a costly part of the sales job for the Milwaukee Bailout. Out-state legislators were willing to throw untold billions at Milwaukee in return for bringing home the bacon to complaining local officials.

As the historic, only days-old Milwaukee Bailout deal is unraveling, the legislature should defer action on the entire shared revenue funding package and hold back funding for anything slated to receive state funds in Milwaukee County, including all earmarks, until a new, tightly drafted, airtight agreement is reached.

There should be no pressure, no rush. The shared revenue funding can be put on hold while the legislation is made right – allowing it to be wrong is a choice.

2. Take It or Leave It, Milwaukee

If Milwaukee chooses to reject the terms of their Bailout Billions in Act 12, the legislature can simply withhold all shared revenue payments from both the city and county. This is close to (within $28 million) the amount of revenue they are projected to take in from the sales tax hikes approved in the act. This would leave them in roughly the same fiscal situation as prior to the bailout legislation, and allows them the freedom to continue to mismanage their finances, which is obviously a higher priority than solving their pension difficulties.

Milwaukee thinks they hold all the cards; they don’t until the shared revenue portions of the budget are passed. The legislature still holds the leverage, if they’re not afraid to use it to get the deal that was agreed on.

3. Draft It Like You Mean It

The shared revenue funding portion of the budget bill must include – and should have from the start – language making clear that if a court overturns any portion of Act 12, the entire act is void.

It was sold as a package deal, it should be drafted like an airtight package deal.

4. Ban Tax Dollars from Being Used For DEI – Everywhere

Apply to all levels of government the same constraints applied to the city of Milwaukee regarding using tax dollars to fund Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion staff. Milwaukee is by no means the only unit of government that is crying poverty while spending tax dollars to hire staff who focus on centering race and sexual orientation in the workplace.

The state has DEI staff in state agencies; local units of government, including schools, have followed suit. The Department of Public Instruction says DEI as the central focus of 635 of their 654 employees, saying it’s their most important work. Which explains why basic reading and math competency is lacking.

The positions at UW, which they’ll just add back, are small potatoes in terms of DEI staff funded by tax dollars in Wisconsin. The budget should take a broader stand.

5. Ban Guaranteed Income Programs

The budget should be amended to ban guaranteed income-like cash welfare programs for all local governments. Madison’s program is staffed by taxpayer-funded employees, aided by Department of Health Services funds, in addition to private donations. Milwaukee has been waiting for money to fund the framework they already have in place, from legislation authored by Cavalier Johnson. With their windfall courtesy of the GOP legislature, guaranteed income programs will help offset any sales-tax contributions many Milwaukee residents will make – shifting the burden of the bailout more heavily toward other state residents and businesses.

As we’ve reported, Madison and Milwaukee aren’t alone. If private donors want to give no-strings-attached cash to people, they can write a check without local government staff, resources or, as is the obvious long-range intent, funds.

6. Cut Public Broadcasting Funding

Public Broadcasting in the US is heavily subsidized by federal, state and even local taxpayers. Yet the same entities that take our tax dollars, who cannot survive without our tax dollars, and who use our tax dollars to promote a biased agenda, will lie when it’s revealed that they’re on the government dole.

Worse than dissembling about their funding, public broadcasting airs heavily biased programming ranging from highlighting the beauty of CRT to a children’s show featuring “Little Miss Hot Mess” reading the time-honored literary classic “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish” aimed to help kids 3 to 8 “explore their gender fluidity…through glamorous, positive, unabashedly queer role models.”

In Wisconsin the Educational Communications Board (ECB) receives $11.6 million in GPR funding, and along with the University of Wisconsin, operates public broadcasting in the state.

In the past the legislature has hesitated to cut funding for ECB because one of their responsibilities is to help “manage” the Emergency Alert System (EAS), providing information to entities who broadcast the alerts. There is no requirement that states have their public broadcasting entities manage their EAS. Wisconsin’s Office of Emergency Communication within the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) already has broad responsibility for the state emergency communications Interoperability Plan, WISCOM, and NextGen911.

It is a false choice that the state must continue to finance heavily biased programming (that competes with privately funded programming) because that – along with $11.6 million GPR – is the price of having Emergency Alerts.

Public broadcasting funding at ECB could be reduced by 75% in the biennium as EAS responsibilities are transferred to DMA (or another entity). In the following budget the remaining ECB funding could be eliminated, and the public broadcasting operation at the UW tackled.

Eleven million is a small dollar amount in a $100 billion budget to be sure. But reducing bloated government requires actions large and small. This one is small and easy.

7. Eliminate the $7 Million Earmark for Cancel-Culture, Child Gender-Converting, Free-Speech-Killing MCW

An earmark of $7 million is going to the Medical College of Wisconsin; it should be removed from the budget.

The Medical College of Wisconsin in May rescinded the use of campus facilities for a forum called “Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Medicine and the Sciences: Uses and Abuses.” They un-invited Senator Ron Johnson, Representative Dave Murphy, and a speaker critical of DEI, citing concerns about the “safety of the MCW community” if DEI were discussed.

MCW cancelled the forum the same day JFC approved their $7 million earmark. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to whether MCW waited until the committee voted on their budget pork before they 86’d the forum?

You’d be right. MCW President Raymond cancelled the event just after 5:30 pm, waiting until just after the vote was taken. (Maybe they advised Milwaukee officials on how to execute the bailout backstab?) MCW was clear: they want the legislature to keep their opinions to themselves and keep the tax dollars flowing.

There’s no question we need more mental health professionals – along with even greater needs for more nurses, primary care physicians, and other health care providers – but handing tax dollars to a work medical school is not the only option. And it is a valid question whether the woke, cancel-culture at MCW, which is part of the ideological purge happening in many medical schools, is producing the kind of mental health professionals who will do no harm – for example, no harm to children suffering from gender dysphoria.

MCW operates, along with Froedtert, “Inclusion Health Clinics” that see children 15 and older who may or may not need to have a mental health evaluation to receive puberty blockers. One member of the MCW psychology faculty signed a national letter condemning laws to protect children from doctor-assisted conversion treatment.

MCW Academic Affairs funded and published report entitled “Is a Female Always a Woman and a Male Always a Man?” The report informs medical educators that gender is a social construct and suggests they stop saying things like “pregnant woman” or a “man’s prostate” while teaching, and to instead say “pregnant person” and “the prostate.”

MCW does not want doctors taught that women are the only people who get pregnant.

Like public broadcasting, this is a small dollar amount. MCW is up to their ears in the gender-affirming industry that exploits mental illness for profit. Their earmarked pork should go.

8. Criminal Justice Transparency

The budget invests in large raises for corrections workers, as well as DAs and Public Defenders. But unlike other areas of the budget where policy was passed in separate legislation that is funded in the budget, the area of criminal justice – a major issue in the state – did not get similar treatment.

It’s time information about plea bargains, sentencing, bail and other justice metrics are made easily accessible by expanding CCAP. For too long the legislature has knuckled under to the judges and DAs who want to keep those Scold and Release statistics hidden. Good public policy decisions rely on transparency, and it is not too late to add funding for this to the budget. This reform should go hand in hand with greater access to timely, accurate, and complete information about whether felons who are serving out their sentences in the community are complying with the terms of release, and the revocation decisions made by the department. We know that the Evers DOC acts to reduce the prison population by turning a blind eye to criminals on supervision who break the rules of their release.

9. Parents Bill of Rights

The increase in choice funding was a big win. But in the education deal the legislature cut with Governor Evers there was a lot of new spending and not much reform. The Parents Bill of Rights legislation vetoed by Evers last session should be repackaged in the budget. These rights, which in a sane world would be a given, are bedrock values conservatives should not shy away from or give up on.

10. Put Any Savings into a Larger Tax Cut.

We believe in smaller government and making taxes flatter, fairer, and lower, so if savings can be achieved through amendments, it should be plowed into a bigger tax cut. A tax cut should have been the top priority in this budget with the $7 billion in tax overpayments that taxpayers could have used to help deal with the Bidenflation that has eaten away at their buying power.

Last budget, we listed 5 ways we thought the 2021-23 budget could have been improved, and this budget cycle, legislators made progress on two of those: Public Health Officers are limited in the time they can unilaterally close a business, and the level of funding for students is the same whether the child is enrolled in public schools or Choice schools.

We shouldn’t wait another 2 years for progress. There is still time to make changes in this budget that will make it a better product, right the wrongs with the Milwaukee Bailout Betrayal, save some tax dollars, and protect parents and children. It’s not too late to make a stand on conservative principles big and small.

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