Finance committee buckles down for state budget work
The Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance has held its hearings and begun the job of rewriting Gov. Scott Walker's two-year budget proposal, said Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls).
Harsdorf, who is serving on the committee for the fourth time in her legislative career, said the 16-member panel began budget work April 26 and will continue to meet every Tuesday and Thursday until it finishes.
Most of the Legislature's work on budget is done in Joint Finance. The goal, said Harsdorf, is for the committee to complete its task by the end of May, keeping the Legislature on track to adopt a biennial budget by the end of June.
"We took up the 'easy' things first, but nothing is easy," said Harsdorf of last week's progress. She said the committee began by meeting with several agencies to go over their budgets.
A major action April 26 was to accept a proposal for funding the counties' work with child support collections, said Harsdorf.
Joint Finance approved $4.25 million, about half what is spent by the state now. Harsdorf said the committee agreed to that amount, which was recommended by the governor, with the understanding that the Legislature will add more later if it can.
Child support collection has been funded with a two-to-one federal match, but the federal government has cut back on the money it provides.
"We're left with how much (funding) we can find," said Harsdorf. "The state has been trying to find other places to fill in the void."
She said legislators appreciate the value of the funding to the counties and to the state as a whole.
"There's a tremendous payback for every dollar spent on child support," said Harsdorf, noting that every dollar spent by government on child support collections results in $6.80 for families.
"Obviously this is going to impact counties," said Harsdorf.
She said the state is also modifying the process to distribute funds based on efficiency and effectiveness of local collection efforts.
Harsdorf said Joint Finance rejected Walker's proposal that the governor be given the ability to eliminate vacant positions. As the committee's version stands, the governor can make recommendations to eliminate positions, but those recommendations then come to Joint Finance.
The committee voted to put in more money for public defenders, adding $3.5 million the first year of the biennium and $3.3 million the second, said Harsdorf.
The money is expected to allow the Office of State Public Defender to add 45 new positions.
Harsdorf said the committee also agreed to raise the income a person can have to qualify for a public defender to 115 percent of the 2011 federal poverty level. That limit, she said, has not been increased since the 1980s.
In other action last week, the Joint Committee on Finance also approved funding for the Department of Natural Resources to pick up car-killed deer. The $800,000 per year approved is the same funding that has been in place for the last five years, said Harsdorf. Half the money will come from General Purpose Revenue and half from a segregated fish and wildlife account.
The Department of Natural Resources had asked for an increase in funding for car-killed deer removal, expecting that contract costs will increase due to rising fuel costs.