Policy Measures included in Budget Limit Public Involvement
The Governor’s proposed budget includes dozens of policy items that don’t directly affect the state’s finances, according to a new memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Including these items in the budget reduces opportunities for public input and makes it easier for lawmakers to make changes without a full debate about the positive or negative effects of those measures.
The budget bill is the one piece of legislation that lawmakers must pass. So whenever a budget bill is under consideration, lawmakers succumb to the temptation to load it up with a variety of unrelated policy measures. The sheer enormity of the budget bill, which runs to nearly 2,000 pages, makes it easy for lawmakers to slip in non-fiscal measures. And given that the budget includes blueprints for how the state will spend several billion dollars of public resources over the next two years, it’s hard for citizens and advocacy organizations to spend time discussing the implications of the much smaller policy measures slipped into the budget.
Including measures unrelated to the budget in the budget legislation is not a new approach, and both parties have been guilty in the past. The legislature will probably remove some of the non-fiscal measures Governor Walker has included in his budget proposal – and then insert some of its own.
In his budget proposal, Governor Walker has included 49 items that change state policy but don’t have much of an effect on the way the state spends money. More than a quarter of the policy measures would affect the way public and private schools educate Wisconsin schoolchildren. The proposed policy changes would:
- Make it easier for organizations to authorize charter schools;
- Modify the indicators included in the “school report cards” that the state uses to assess the success of school districts and individual schools; and
- Prohibit the state from requiring that districts use assessments aligned with the Common Core, a set of educational standards developed by states working together with the goal of establishing consistent educational standards.
Other non-fiscal measures included in the budget bill that deserve to be considered on their own merits would:
- Shift the responsibility for assessing property from municipalities to counties;
- Exempt some University of Wisconsin research from the state public records law; and
- Limit citizen oversight of the Department of Natural Resources.
In addition to the 49 non-fiscal items, there are another four items that have major policy and long-term budgetary effects and deserve to be considered on their own merits, separate from the budget bill:
- Drug-testing of people who receive BadgerCare, FoodShare (also known as food stamps), or unemployment benefits.
- Reorganization of the relationship between the state and the University of Wisconsin System;
- Changes to how people with disabilities would receive the help they need to live independently; and
- Plans to subsidize a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. When lawmakers provided assistance for professional sports arenas in the past, they did so through separate legislation rather than including the measure in the budget bill.