Today, Wisconsin’s powerful budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC) held its fourth and final public hearing on the upcoming biennial budget. The GOP-led legislative body plays a major role in rewriting and altering the state’s budget.
Today’s session was the only virtual public hearing on Governor Tony Evers’ $91 billion dollar spending plan. Registration for the hearing filled minutes after opening last Monday– as residents and advocacy groups jockeyed for a chance to weigh in on the budget.
Roughly two hundred people were able to secure a spot to testify today, in a hearing that spanned most of the day. More than sixty advocacy groups have joined a Democratic call to add more virtual hearings, noting that the registration filled up quickly.
At a pre-hearing press conference today, Committee member Jon Erpenbach, a Democratic Senator from West Point, said that the finance committee’s Republican leaders brushed off those requests.
“Today’s virtual listening session filled up right away, which told us that we needed to do another one,” Erpenbach told reporters. “I wish we would have, and we asked the Republican leadership if they would and they weren’t open to it.”
The Joint Finance Committee has also held three public input sessions across the state – in Whitewater, Rhinelander and Menominee. Those public input sessions were all in-person.
Evan Goyke, a Democratic State Representative from Milwaukee, is a member of the Joint Finance Committee. Goyke says public input on the budget is critical.
“The public hearings, or the roadshow as we sometimes call it, are a critical part of the budget process,” said Evan Goyke, a Democratic State Representative from Milwaukee and member of the Joint Finance Committee. “It’s an opportunity for residents of Wisconsin in every corner of the state to weigh in on their budget priorities.”
Governor Evers released his proposed budget in February. It would, among many other things, legalize marijuana, implement new voter registration policies, repeal some Act Ten provisions and increase the state’s minimum wage. The spending plan duplicates many of the proposals in Evers’ last biennial budget, and the JFC’s Republican co-chairs have referred to it as a “liberal’s dream.”
Many of Evers’ proposals are likely to be stripped away by the Republican majority in the legislature, — which is exactly what happened to the Governor’s last budget.
Senator Erpenbach says the JFC is likely to start with their own plan.
Said Erpenbach: “As we begin to deal with the Governor’s budget, my guess is maybe sometime late next week on the finance committee, I expect them to do what they said they’re going to do and blow everything up and start from the beginning. But that doesn’t mean that a lot of work Governor Evers has proposed can’t be put back into the budget as we begin to build it back.”
Governor Evers has also held his own series of public budget hearings over the past month. Evers’ six virtual sessions focused on aspects of his budget including, among other things, marijuana legalization, climate change and infrastructure.
While today was the Finance Committee’s last formal public input session, Wisconsinites can still submit comments online and by emailing Budget.Comments@legis.wisconsin.gov. The Joint Finance Committee is accepting comments until noon on Friday.
(PHOTO: WORT News / Flickr)