Republicans keep majority of nonfiscal policy items in proposed budget

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Wisconsin lawmakers are hard at work, carefully going through Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget.

The Joint Finance Committee is making important decisions on what stays and what goes.

This year, as in year's past, the majority party is trying to get policy items passed in the budget.

The Joint Finance Committee is the deciding factor on the budget before it moves on to the Assembly and Senate.

The members have the task of sorting through every detail and making whatever changes they feel necessary.

"In a given day, they might take up the budgets of three or four agencies and usually have the agency come in and talk about the budget," said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim.


The first week into hearings, a major focus is on the budget items that are not financially related, or in other words, policies that change how the government works, not simply a dollar amount for a certain agency.

"Both parties do this, by the way. They like to slip things into the budget that otherwise they would be spending a lot more time and energy on," said Heim.

There are 58 of those policies in this budget, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The Joint Finance Committee decided to keep 46 of the 58, including some controversial policies like a voucher program for special needs students, an end to residency requirements for city employees, and rent-to-own regulations.

Heim said it's not surprising, since the committee is controlled by Republicans.

"The fact that 46 were left in the budget tells you that the Joint Finance Committee is going along with pretty much what the governor wants," said Heim.

Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Shilling said many of the remaining 46 items should still be removed.       

"We as Democrats, we really wanted to talk about that in our first meeting, those fiscal items that have been identified, some of the more controversial issues that don't belong in the state budget and should be sent through the committee process," said Shilling.

While a decision has been made, those topics will likely be revisited in the coming weeks as the committee sorts through each piece of the budget.

The Joint Finance Committee will continue meeting for the next six weeks.

Once it finishes it's work, the budget will be sent on to the Assembly for more discussion and a vote.

The entire process is expected to wrap up by the end of June, when the budget will make its way back to the governor for a signature by July 1.

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