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Harsdorf: Budget needs to get 'back on track'

If Wisconsin lawmakers and citizens learned anything from the last budget process, it's that it must be changed, said Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls.

"I've never seen a budget quite like this," said Harsdorf, who has been a legislator for 15 years -- serving first in the Assembly and now in the Senate.

A standoff between the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled Assembly resulted in a three-month stalemate that wasn't broken until mid-October.

Harsdorf is proposing a "back on track" initiative aimed, she said, at improving state finances and restoring accountability to the budget process.

At the top of her list of proposals is a constitutional amendment to eliminate the "Frankenstein veto." That veto, said Harsdorf, allows a governor to "stitch together unrelated words to create new sentences and laws that appropriate money no legislator voted for."

Although Gov. Jim Doyle didn't use his veto pen as creatively and extensively as he and his predecessors have in the past, the Frankenstein veto must go, said Harsdorf.

"This isn't about Gov. Doyle," said Harsdorf. "This is about what authority we want to give whoever is governor."

Nearly two decades ago, the state ended the "Vanna White veto," which allowed governors to delete individual letters to create new words.

Harsdorf defended line-item and partial veto powers for the state's governors, saying she fully supports the ability to delete particular things from the budget bill or to reduce appropriations.

She said governors should have the power to veto but not to cobble together laws that were never given a hearing in the Legislature.

"I think that's wrong," said Harsdorf.

She said the "Frankenstein veto" hangs over legislators as they work on the budget because they have no assurance that the final document will look anything like the bill they sent to the governor.

Because it takes a constitutional amendment, elimination of the "Frankenstein veto" must be approved by both houses of the Legislature and then put to a statewide referendum.

The Assembly approved the measure earlier this year. Since the Senate also appears ready to approve it, Harsdorf is optimistic that a referendum will be held next April.

She is also co-sponsoring legislation that would restrict deficit spending growth while requiring the state to adhere to generally accepted accounting principles, the same rules used by businesses to report liabilities, income and expenditures.

Adhering to GAAP would eliminate structural deficits and reflect more accurately the state's financial position, said Harsdorf. She said the proposal would have to be phased in.

She is also proposing that the Legislature change its rules and restrict the addition of new budget provisions during conference committee negotiations.

Policy items should be taken up as separate legislation, not added by a small group during committee deliberations, said Harsdorf.

Under this rule change, the conference committee couldn't add any policy item that hadn't been passed in at least one house of the Legislature, she said.