Governor’s Guidance Gives Hints of What’s to come in Next Budget

Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 10:09 AM by

Governor Walker has given state agencies guidance on how to develop their proposals for Wisconsin’s next budget, giving some glimpses into what the state’s 2015-17 budget might bring. 

Wisconsin has a two-year budget. The budget process starts in the summer of even numbered years – like now — when the Governor instructs agencies in how to develop budget requests. Agencies submit their requests to the executive branch by September 15, and the Governor takes the requests into consideration when developing his own budget proposal to submit to the Legislature. The Governor is expected to release his budget proposal in the early part of 2015. For more about the Wisconsin state budget cycle, check the Wisconsin Budget Project’s Budget Toolkit.

For the upcoming budget, Governor Walker recently instructed agencies to assume there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations in each fiscal year. In other words, he wants agencies to submit budget requests that are not any higher their budgets were two years ago, even though inflation and other factors have pushed costs up. 

The Governor does carve out some exceptions to his zero-growth policy, including ones for:

  • State support for K-12 schools. An increase for schools could help ease some of the very deep cuts that Wisconsin has made in education funding. The state budget provided 15% less resources per student in 2014 than in 2008. Only six states made deeper cuts to education over this period.
  • Entitlement and related assistance programs in the Department of Health Services, including Medicaid. Medicaid, like other entitlements, has routinely been exempted from spending freezes because there is typically growth in caseloads and increases in the cost per participant. Another factor in boosting Medicaid spending in the next budget is the much higher than expected enrollment of childless adults in recent months, which will create a large shortfall in the BadgerCare budget (unless state policymakers reconsider their decision to reject federal funding that would pay the full cost of newly eligible adults). Of course, just because there isn’t a hard spending freeze doesn’t mean that DHS and the Governor won’t propose policy changes to reduce costs.
  • State-level efforts to make sure children are safe in their own homes, or placed in safe foster or adoptive homes. This effort includes the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, which is run by the state, and has been in the news recently for caseload backlogs and high turnover of employees.
  • Employment services for people with disabilities. In the last budget, Wisconsin did not provide the state funding for these services at the level necessary to receive the full federal matching amount. Later in 2013, the legislature backtracked and provided additional state funding, thereby maximizing the federal match for these services. The inclusion of these services on the list of programs exempted from the zero-growth policy may mean that  this time around, the Governor favors providing the full amount of state match for the federal dollars in the budget; and
  • Basic cost-to-continue needs for the state’s institutions at the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health Services.

The Governor’s budget instructions also note that “the state has a goal of increasing the ongoing receipt of federal funds where the use of federal funding is consistent with state program goals.” This is an interesting choice of words, given that the Walker administration has made several high-profile decisions to turn down federal money, including funding for improving BadgerCare and for building a high-speed rail line.

Tamarine Cornelius

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