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.