When historians look back at the crafting of the 2009-11 biennial budget, one motion will go down as perhaps the most representative amendment adopted by the Joint Finance Committee. At roughly 11:30 at night, the committee passed their omnibus transportation motion, which will one day go on the Mount Rushmore of bad legislation.
The motion contains 28 items, known only to the motion’s drafters until it was handed out late on Thursday evening. None of the provisions in the motion were known during the public hearing process, and not a single one can plausibly be linked to closing the state’s budget deficit. In fact, many of the pork items, intended to avoid public scrutiny, spend more money in districts represented exclusively by Democrats.
If you read the motion itself, you will find items like:
Requiring a report on how to build high speed passenger rail between Madison and Minneapolis, with stops in Eau Claire and LaCrosse.
$430,000 for County Trunk Highway X in Chippewa County. (Represented by Democratic Senator Pat Krietlow)
$1.25 million for the reconstruction of Manitowoc Road in the Village of Bellevue. (Represented by Democratic Senator Dave Hansen, who served on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$900,000 for various “transportation enhancements” for the City of Racine. (Represented by Democratic Senator John Lehman and Democratic Assemblyman Cory Mason, both of whom serve on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$250,000 for the Town of La Prairie for a bridge replacement. (Represented by Democratic Senator Judy Robson, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$100,000 again for the Village of Bellevue for a “beautification project.” (Represented by Democratic Senator Dave Hansen, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$20,000 for the Village of Footville in Rock County for a pedestrian path. (Represented by Democratic Senator Judy Robson, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Allowing delivery trucks to exceed allowable weight restrictions, as long as they are driving to or from A) A distribution center or warehouse in Kenosha County, or B) a manufacturing plant or warehouse in Racine County. (Represented by Democratic Senator John Lehman, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee, and Democratic Senator Bob Wirch.)
Requiring DOT to construct a new I-90/94/39 interchange in Dane County (Represented by Democratic Senator Mark Miller and Democratic Assemblyman Mark Pocan, who together co-chair the Joint Finance Committee.)
Requiring DOT to conduct a Highway 12 reconstruction study for the stretch leading to Whitewater (Represented by Democratic State Senator Judy Robson, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Requiring DOT to conduct an environmental study for reconstruction of Highway 13 in Marshfield. (Represented by Democratic State Senator Julie Lassa, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Requiring DOT to conduct an environmental assessment on the Wood County Bridge. (Represented by Democratic State Senator Julie Lassa, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Rename the stretch of highway between Highway 8 and Highway 53 in Barron County the “Donald Schneider” highway, after the former Senate Chief Clerk.
You get the idea. And that’s just for starters – the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel listed some of the pork projects passed earlier in the evening here. After the early round of voting, one thing is clear – don’t expect to see your roads fixed if you live in a district represented by a Republican.
Oh, and for good measure, they threw in giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, and reducing the amount of time a driver’s license can be suspended for failing to pay a forfeiture, for good measure. Neither of which has had a public hearing.
In the early rounds of the “debate” on Thursday night, Democrats urged quick passage of all their motions, saying we “need to get around to the business of fixing the budget.” Ten bucks to any member of Joint Finance that can explain to us how any of the provisions rammed through in Motion 615 closes the budget gap by one cent. Instead, they appear to be “stimulating” their own chances of re-election.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 3:29 pm
Despite claiming they were coming back into session at noon today, there’s still no sign of the Joint Finance Committee as of closing time on Thursday. The committee members remain sequestered behind closed doors, formulating a $50 billion budget that they’ll unveil to the public minutes before they plan on taking a vote. They’re taking this about as seriously as I took those all-nighters in college, when I’d down Mountain Dew all night and pull a paper on Beowulf out of my rear end.
Of course, despite all the happy talk about being back in session this afternoon, it was never going to happen. If they meet at all tonight, they’ll pass this toxic boulliabaise the second both the Journal Sentinel’s deadline passes, or when the 10:00 news is over. Maybe they’ll stay even later, just to be sure. That keeps the budget out of the news until Saturday, when nobody’s paying any attention.
Fortunately, we have what appears to be a draft document of the final motion to look over – although much of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering is going to change it. It begins to shed some light on the extremely vague plan laid out by Governor Jim Doyle and legislative leaders last week that claimed to “fix” the current $1.6 billion deficit.
Of course, as we’re finding out now, many of the claims made in Doyle’s press conference were dubious. Doyle claimed that state departments were going to see massive “cuts.” Yet many of these “cuts” actually aren’t cuts at all – they are one-time lapses from other funds being dumped into the general fund, creating an even greater budget deficit in the next biennium.
For instance, Doyle’s budget issues $285 million in new bonds to restructure existing bonds, allowing the state to skip a payment here or there. Naturally, this means we’ll be paying more in the long run, and will have to find a different revenue source for the programs funded by this gimmick in this budget.
The same goes for the committee’s plan to transfer $140 million out of the transportation fund to plug a hole in the general fund, and shift $60 million worth of programs from the general fund to the transportation fund. They then authorize $140 million in new bonds to backfill the hole in the transportation fund – costing taxpayers another 20 or 30 years’ worth of interest and creating a larger deficit in the long run. This is simply more of the same that has gotten us in such a giant deficit to begin with. Do you see any “cutting” here?
Perhaps more egregious are the items in the budget that either spend more money or have nothing to do with the state budget at all. Non-fiscal items are slipped into this immense omnibus motion, then voted on quickly without any input in order to avoid scrutiny. Somehow, when describing all the tough choices the state would have to make to close the deficit, Doyle forgot to mention that the draft motion:
Riddles the current school revenue limits with holes, including allowing property tax increases for school safety, school nurses, for excessive transportation costs, for “energy efficiency,” and for consolidated school districts. Of course, since money is fungible, these loopholes with merely allow school districts to raise taxes to spend money in other areas.
Requires school districts to provide transportation to pregnant students who live within 2 miles of the school.
Clamps a dozen new non-fiscal requirements on to schools that participate in the Milwaukee School Choice program – none of which make any change whatsoever in the state’s budget deficit.
Provides a $500,000 grant to the “Aldo Leopold Climate Change Classroom and Interactive Laboratory” that borders Madison and Monona. High fives to Joint Finance Committee chair Senator Mark Miller for looking out for the climate change needs of his district.
Provides $50,000 to the “Global Academy” in Dane County, the home of both JFC co-chairs Miller and Mark Pocan.
Provides $50,000 to the Chequamegon school district for “distance learning.” Nice to be represented by the Senate Majority Leader.
Provides $500,000 in bonding revenue for renovation of the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh. (Will there be a requirement that the first show there is an air guitar show?)
Includes a provision making it easier to sue businesses for asbestos claims.
Includes a provision making it legal for the legal counsel or division administrators at the Government Accountability Board to have held partisan office previous to their stint at the GAB.
Expands food stamp eligibility for some illegal aliens by $500,000.
Mandates coverage of autism for any health plan in the state, thereby raising the cost of every health plan in Wisconsin.
Requires disability plans in Wisconsin to cover nonresidential services for nervous or mental disorders, or alcoholism or drug abuse problems.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg – the committee has been meeting for weeks, adding spending for trash cans, requiring police report the race of people they pull over, making seatbelts mandatory, and other provisions that have absolutely nothing to do with helping the state solve the deficit.
It’s going to be a late night. Everyone go home, have a glass of wine, and enjoy yourselves. You won’t want to know what your Legislature has been up to. You’ll find out next time you get your tax bill.
For a decade and a half, the state’s teachers union has been hammering away at Republican state lawmakers for failing to repeal the Qualified Economic Offer law (QEO), which essentially allowed school districts to grant a 3.8% increase in salary and benefits to teachers without going to arbitration.
In the state budget he submitted in February, Governor Jim Doyle proposed repealing the QEO. Since Democrats hold both houses of the Legislature, it seemed to be a sure thing that they would go along with Doyle’s suggestion.
But then yesterday, a funny thing happened. WEAC, the state’s largest teachers’ union, offered up a “compromise” plan to the Legislature instead of simply doing away with the QEO.
Your first question is probably obvious: “Exactly with whom are they compromising?” They own the Wisconsin Legislature. They can get whatever they want – why would they feel the need to “compromise” with anyone, seeing as the thing they have hated most for 15 years is a couple of votes from being history? And who exactly represents the taxpayers in this “compromise?”
The “compromise” they offered essentially delays repeal of the QEO for one year. So they’ve been ripping on Republicans for years for not eliminating the QEO, but then when it comes time to actually do it, they want to push it off for a year – when they have the votes to eliminate it immediately.
Hmmmm….. (stroking chin)
What they’ve done is put into writing what most others have realized over the years – the QEO is actually a pretty good deal, especially in a bad economy. They have recognized that if you pull away the QEO now, they could end up with a lot less than a 3.8% pay and benefits increase. In tough economic times, it’s a floor rather than a ceiling – ask any of the 128,000 private sector workers who have lost their jobs in Wisconsin in the past year if they’d settle for a guaranteed 3.8% increase.
Back in January, Doyle called for elimination of the QEO in his State of the State speech. In covering that portion of the address, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters described the QEO by saying “teachers must get an annual increase of pay and benefits of at least 3.8% a year.” I believe this is the first time I’ve ever seen the QEO characterized in that way in the media, rather than being cast as a cap on teacher pay. Amazing how a bad economy starts to change individuals’ perspectives on pay issues.
This new bogus “compromise” exposes many of the arguments WEAC has used over the years in favor of scuttling the QEO as complete nonsense. They have made all these high-minded appeals to the sanctity of collective bargaining and workers’ rights and how damaging it is to children to have teachers under salary caps – when in fact, they’re more than willing to throw those all out the window if it means more money for one year. This isn’t about saving the kids or about collective bargaining – it’s all about getting the most money for their members in the short-term. That’s why they feel the need to strike a “compromise” with themselves.
So taxpayers be warned – this isn’t a “compromise” at all. It’s merely a stunt to make WEAC look more reasonable and squeeze you for more cash. Of course, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will likely give the public a full five minutes to debate this plan that was cooked up in a secret meeting last night. Open and honest government – soak it in.
UPDATE: Under the draft motion first posted by the MacIver Institute, WEAC’s “compromise” plan has been adopted. Must have been tough negotiations. I bet they worked hard to hammer out this compromise in order to save taxpayers from the horror of having to pay less in property taxes.
Wisconsin’s statewide test given to hundreds of thousands of students each year deserves a poor grade for its own performance.
The test has some of the weakest standards in the nation.
The test takes far too long to process.
The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination also fails to compare student proficiency at the beginning of a school year with proficiency at the end of the same academic year.
All of that needs to change, as recommended last week in reports by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative study group in Hartland.
By giving a better test with higher standards twice a year, schools also could better determine how much value they’re getting from varying programs, methods and educators.
Rather than comparing each grade level’s test scores from the fall of one year to the fall of another year, “value-added testing” would track and give individual students and teachers recognition for dramatic strides over the coarse of a single academic year. It would compare the same students’ scores in the fall to scores in spring.
So a student who was three years behind in math a year ago, for example, would get credit for being just one year behind now if he or she improved by two grade levels over the last year. That would be good value, even though the student is still behind.
Moving the tests online would speed results back to classrooms to help educators adjust. Results from the current paper exam can take more than five months to process now.
This Memorial Day weekend, your mind was probably far from the inner workings of state government. Maybe you watched the Brewers win a divisional nailbiter against the Cardinals on Monday. Perhaps you were elbows deep in bratwurst and cole slaw at a family picnic. Or you could have honored our nation’s veterans by working on your farmer tan and playing a round of bad golf.
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, however, was in the Capitol re-writing the state budget. In many cases, despite facing a $6.6 billion deficit, the committee kept adding more spending and more state government employees. Furthermore, with all the new non-fiscal laws they were stuffing into the budget document, you’d think it was Thanksgiving, not Memorial Day. Of course, this clandestine meeting was scheduled primarily to avoid any scrutiny of what was actually being passed. Not even the state’s C-Span (WisconsinEye) has posted the Saturday goings-on, meaning it was officially viewed by fewer people than viewed my last prostate exam.
Saturday’s marathon Joint Finance session featured 56 votes. That’s 56 changes to state law that likely won’t get even the most cursory scrutiny from taxpayers or the media.
Within those votes were some pretty serious law changes. The committee made 9 changes to the state’s prevailing wage law, above and beyond what Governor Doyle had proposed (Motions 473 and 479). The committee increased the state’s “tipping fee” by $50 million. They changed the name of the “Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund” to the “Wisconsin Clean Elections Fund” (a meaningless semantic change, but an indication of all the junk they’re willing to throw into the “budget” bill.) They voted dozens of changes in health care, none of which have had any public hearing, and several of which have no state fiscal effect whatsoever. (For instance, the committee passed Motion #392, which makes several changes to how short-term health insurance plans treat pre-existing conditions.)
Does anyone know what the cumulative effect of all these changes will be? Anyone? They were all introduced and passed within minutes, with little, if any, public debate, and virtually no coverage. The first anyone will have heard of any of these provisions will be after they have long since been added to the omnibus budget bill.
Speaking of “coverage,” one Saturday motion in particular demonstrates why the committee may have been meeting as secretly as possible:
The governor’s budget expanded the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver program to men, and increased spending by $355,000 in 2009-10 to provide these new program participants with condoms. From the Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo:
By the second year of the biennium, the administration assumes the state medical assistance (MA) program would realize savings as births that would otherwise be funded by MA are averted due to these expanded family planning services. Over the biennium, the administration estimates those savings would more than offset the additional program costs.
Ah, you see – the program pays for itself. If taxpayers just bought more condoms for people, we’d have fewer pregnancies, and therefore fewer taxpayer subsidized births:
Based on projected male enrollment of 2,870, DHS estimates that 373 births will be averted in 2010-11 as a result of the proposed expansion.
Because condoms are just so difficult to come by these days. Certainly, once government starts handing them out, everyone will be using them, right? Well, no:
The administration’s estimate of the MA savings that would be realized from the proposed expansion to males is difficult to confirm, in part because it does not appear that the other eight states that have extended their family planning programs to men have separately identified savings associated with those extensions.
Eight other states allow men to take part in the Family Planning Waiver program, and zero have seen any cost reductions as a result of “fewer births.” Which makes it interesting that the Doyle Administration would pencil in a million dollars in savings in 2010-11 from the program. Basically, that number is completely fabricated, and will have to be dealt with in the next budget, when the “savings” don’t materialize. It’s essentially just a placeholder to aid in getting through this budget. (To their credit, the committee stripped out some of the up-front funding for the program, but still believes the program will provide some savings.)
There are likely dozens of examples like this buried in the budget, that will never see the light of day. If only the Joint Finance Committee provided funding for protecting us against them.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 10:23 am
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee announced just minutes ago that they would be meeting on Friday and Saturday this weekend to pass a bill closing the state’s $6.6 billion deficit. Ashamed of what they will be passing out of committee and determined to have as little scrutiny of the package as possible, the committee has decided to meet on Memorial Day weekend to sneak through their as-yet unannounced budget plan.
Of course, the committee – headed by Democratic Assemblyman Mark Pocan and Democratic Senator Mark Miller – thinks people will taking advantage of the long weekend by camping, grilling weiners, and playing volleyball. So while getting legislators to come to work on a weekend is normally about as easy as getting a cat into a bathtub, they are all willing to show up for this disgraceful charade to make sure the public has as little information about their budget deal as possible.
Let’s quickly review the actions of this Joint Finance Committee:
In the past, the committee traditionally removed all of the non-fiscal budget policy items identified by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This time, the co-chairs left in over 40 items that have nothing to do with state finance, but would increase, for instance, insurance premiums for drivers that have car insurance. In leaving these policy items in the budget, the committee members ensured there would be no public debate on their merits, as many of them may not be able to pass as separate legislation.
In early May, several committee members locked themselves into a room for 12 hours while they pieced together a secret Regional Transportation Authority package – one that created new taxing authorities with the ability to raise the sales tax by double what Doyle had proposed, and that cut elected Republican elected officials out of the taxing boards, while allowing Democrats appointing authority. The committee members emerged at 2:00 in the morning and passed the package on a Friday morning, thereby avoiding news coverage of the secret deal.
The forthcoming “Memorial Day Massacre.”
Of course, the public currently has no idea what’s in the package they’re going to pass on Saturday, and many of them won’t be paying very much attention. In essence, the committee is using a weekend honoring dead veterans as a shield to avoid scrutiny of their plan.
Just this week, we got a couple small peeks of what might be in the package – Wispolitics reported reduced aid to local governments, with property tax caps might be in the mix. Jason Stein at the Wisconsin State Journal uncovered a plan to issue federally subsidized bonds to plug the budget gap. But nobody will know what’s in the final budget until it has long since passed.
Of course, all the B.S. “good government” groups won’t say a peep about how the public is being shut out of the process, with all the back room dealing taking place. The state press corps probably won’t even realize that this whole charade is an attempt to keep as much information from them as possible, and whatever info they do get, it will be at the last possible moment. Then they can get back to covering Danny Gokey’s burgeoning career.
If Miller and Pocan ever look anyone in the eye again and say they’re for “open” and “honest” government, they should be laughed out of the Capitol.
Filed under: Budget,Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 9:33 am
On Tuesday of this week, representatives from over 60 lobbying groups packed the Senate Parlor in the State Capitol to lobby for higher taxes and more state spending. Among the groups pushing for more revenue were the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, the Wisconsin Coalition of Aging Groups, and AARP.
In the press release accompanying the event, the groups push for higher taxes to fund their programs:
Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, urged Governor Doyle and state lawmakers to take a responsible approach to fixing the state’s $6.6 billion deficit by adopting both spending cuts and targeted revenue increases.
So we get it – higher taxes are “responsible.” As long as they’re not paid by their own members.
Less than 24 hours later, these same three groupsissued a press release urging the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to cut their own taxes. They urged expansion of the Homestead Credit, which currently isn’t indexed, and thus is losing value relative to property tax increases. They argue:
The Homestead credit is one of the only significant parts of the Wisconsin tax code that isn’t indexed for inflation. The Governor’s proposal would annually adjust the income limit for the credit, but would leave the maximum credit where it’s been since 1991. The full formula should be adjusted for inflation each year to stop future erosion of this very important program.
So higher taxes are vital, as long as it’s you suckers that are paying them.
As a side note, expanding the credit for seniors is certainly a laudable goal. One step that could be taken to boost the credit would be to set a higher minimum eligibility age to receive the credit. Right now, the minimum age is 18 – meaning, the credit is going to a lot of college students who aren’t legitimately “low-income,” but still come in under the $8,000 per year income figure. Shifting the credit away from college kids who don’t need it to seniors who are legitimately low income would be a worthwhile step.
For more information on the Homestead Credit, click here.
Filed under: Legislation — Christian Schneider @ 8:54 am
If you were worried about Al-Qaeda operatives secretly infiltrating your Wednesday night bowling league, have no fear. State Representative Dean Kaufert has declared Wisconsin off limits to terrorists, drafting a bill banning the placement of Guantanamo Bay prisoners in the Dairy State.
Guantanamo Warden: ”Pack your bags, boys – you’re going to Wisconsin.”
Al-Qaeda Terrorist Bomber: “Please – anywhere else – the taxes are too high there!”
What Kaufert doesn’t realize is that our way of life in Wisconsin is already being threatened by a terrorist on the loose – one that never even served in Guantanamo. His actions will likely bring down the state’s financial infrastructure, rock our shared ethos to the core, and have Wisconsin families cowering in their basements until the nightmare is over. So if anyone sees this man, please alert the Department of Homeland Security.
Actually, this bill should get a lot of support, assuming it can be amended to also include Cubs fans.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 12:49 pm
My column arguing for requiring government employees to kick in more for their retirement benefits appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel yesterday. It has undoubtedly riled state employees who have become accustomed to the generous retirement benefits offered by the taxpayers.
It seems, however, that state and local government employees should be willing to make a fairly small concession in exchange for saving their jobs. It seems that most on the left argue vehemently that fewer government employees makes for worse government. This issue exposes the schism between conscientious liberals who believe in effective government versus those who merely see taxpayers as a way to pad their own wallets.
In the article, I mention that the issue of requiring more employee retirement contributions is “an idea that nobody is talking about.” In fact, a requirement that new employees pay a portion of their pension was in the Assembly Republican budget that passed in 2007, and Representative Mark Gottlieb e-mailed me to point out that he introduced legislation on this in each of the last two sessions (2007 AB 449, and 2005 AB 267).
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has an informative paper on the Wisconsin Retirement System which can be read here. The section on employee contributions begins on page 37.