Agency Requests Underscore Wisconsin’s Budget Challenges

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 2:48 PM by

Most state agencies have submitted their budget requests for Wisconsin’s upcoming 2015-17 budget. These requests are worth taking a look at because they can give some insight into Governor Walker’s priorities for the next budget. The requests can be found here, on the Department of Administration’s website

Back in July, Governor Walker told state agencies that their 2015-17 budget requests should assume that there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations. (He did carve out a few exceptions to that rule.) But nearly all the major agencies that have submitted budget proposals so far have requested at least modest increases in funding.  The growing tab for these requests helps illustrate the significant challenge of balancing a budget at a time when the state is expected to need almost $1.8 billion of revenue growth just to provide flat funding.

One agency, the Department of Health Services, has indicated that it will require a big boost in General Fund spending to pay for health care for people with low incomes: $760 million over two years. Part of the added cost comes from the fact that the federal government  decreases the share it pays of the state’s Medicaid program as Wisconsin’s economy improves.  It’s unclear from the DHS document whether they are seeking a $760 million GPR increase or plan to make  to make very large Medicaid cuts to offset the increased costs. 

The new Medicaid cost projections make it clearer than ever why Wisconsin should accept the federal funding for expanding BadgerCare coverage, which the Fiscal Bureau estimated could save as much as $300 million in the next budget period.

Other budget requests include:

  • No increase in GPR for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state’s lead economic development organization;
  • An increase of 1.9% GPR, or $45 million, for the Department of Corrections, with few large new initiatives proposed;
  • A 6.1% increase in GPR for the Department of Justice;
  •  $95 million in new GPR for the University of Wisconsin, to “fund a new plan to create jobs, boost graduation numbers, and deal with a tuition freeze;” and
  • A 10.1% increase in GPR for the State Public Defender Board, which includes funding for a pay raise for public defender attorneys, and an increase in the rate paid when the agency contracts with outside attorneys for services.

Not all state agencies have submitted their complete budget proposals at this point. In particular, the Department of Public Instruction has submitted a budget request that covers school safety and technology, but doesn’t plan to submit the request related to school funding until later this fall. DPI’s initial request asks for money to support a new school safety center, which would provide guidance to schools on school violence and emergency preparedness. DPI has also asked to provide additional funding directly to districts to support programs and activities that prevent school violence and protect students.

The next step in the budget process is that the Governor takes the budget requests into consideration, and then issues his – or her – own budget proposal, usually in January or February.

Tamarine Cornelius

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