Resolution (SJR 5) Would Finally Make Legislative Rule on Fiscal Estimates Consistent with Statute
For far too long, legislators have been making decisions about new criminal penalties without paying much attention to cost. A Senate Joint Resolution (SJR 5),which would address that longstanding problem, is scheduled for a committee vote this Tuesday, March 26.
Under the legislature’s current rules, any bill “increasing or decreasing existing appropriations or state or general local government fiscal liability or revenues shall carry a fiscal estimate,” but that rule (Joint Rule 41) contains an exception for bills changing criminal penalties. SJR 5, introduced by Senator Taylor, would eliminate that exemption. (The resolution is in the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Public Works and Telecommunications, and you can Senator’s press release describing it here.)
One of the very surprising and disappointing things about that fiscal estimate exemption in the legislature’s rules is that it conflicts with the statute! Back in 2001, the legislature passed a law (signed by Gov. Read more
A smarter approach to criminal justice could reduce Wisconsin’s alarmingly large prison population and save the state millions of dollars. That’s the message brought to the state Capitol today by 11×15 Coalition for Justice, an alliance of faith-based groups. The group takes its name from its goal of reducing the state’s prison population to 11,000 people by the year 2015, down from its current level of about 21,000 people.
Wisconsin’s prison population has ballooned in recent decades, and costs have skyrocketed as well. Between 1990 and the high point in 2008, Wisconsin’s prison population nearly quadrupled, fueled in part by “tough on crime” initiatives that emphasized lengthy prison sentences. Since 2008, Wisconsin’s prison population has decreased slightly, but Wisconsin still imprisons a larger share of its population than many other states do. For example, Wisconsin’s incarceration rate is twice that of Minnesota, as shown in the chart below. It costs the state about $38,000 per year to house an inmate. Read more
As we noted in late December, the Secretary of the Dept. of Administration (DOA) submitted a plan on December 23 to lapse $123.3 million from agency budgets to the General Fund. The biennial budget bill required DOA to lapse $174.3 million, and DOA has determined that it needs to find most of that in the current fiscal year. More than a third of the proposed lapses come from the UW System, which would be required to give back $46 million by June 30 of this year.
The full legislature doesn’t need to approve the DOA plan and won’t have a chance to vote on it, but the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is given the opportunity to review it. Because a JFC member objected to the plan, the committee has to meet to consider it. That meeting was announced this afternoon and is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, February 15, at 1:00 p.m. Read more
The budget lapses recommended by the Department of Corrections (DOC) remind me of an expression that was occasionally used by a former Milwaukee-area Congressman, Jerry Kleczka. I’ve been observing Wisconsin politics long enough to remember when Kleczka served in the state Senate and co-chaired the Joint Finance Committee during the early 1980s.
Senator Kleczka was a strong-willed co-chair who watched the state’s purse strings carefully and who didn’t mince words. As I recall, he was known at the time as a fiscally conservative Democrat, although I think a better description would be to call him “fiscally responsible.” He believed in fiscal choices that would keep the budget in balance over the long haul – in contrast to the short-term solutions that were more frequently employed in subsequent years by lawmakers in both parties.
One of the indelicate expressions Kleczka would occasionally use was “shifting the shaft” – by which he meant that the state was shifting its own fiscal problems onto others, such as local governments or property taxpayers. Read more