November 24, 2014

Lawmakers begin budget work

The Legislature’s Join Finance Committee on Tuesday started the long process of considering the two year budget plan proposed by Governor Scott Walker.

The first day of hearings saw Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch trying to make the case for approving the $69 billion plan unveiled by Walker in February. Huebsch says the budget “makes smart choices, while investing in priorities necessary to serve our citizens.”

Lawmakers peppered Huebsch with a variety of questions on issues such as education funding, bonding for road construction projects, and plans to sell state property. Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee raised concerns about portions of the governor’s budget, which Huebsch was quick to defend.

On a proposal that would allow the state sell off excess property, the secretary stressed that the state Capitol, prisons, and parks were not being put up for sale. Huebsch says the provision is aimed more at unloading and paying off the debt for properties the state no longer needs, such as easements purchased when planning road projects.

Governor Walker’s education funding proposals brought frequent criticisms from Democrats, with state Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) raising concerns about the governor’s proposed expansion of voucher schools. Shilling says the lack of accountability for private schools is something many members of the public are worried about.

Huebsch defended the plan, arguing that choice programs can give students a better opportunity to succeed. He says the state cannot continue to turn its back on students who remain in failing schools, when other options are available.

Lawmakers on Tuesday also heard from the Department of Revenue and Workforce Development, along with Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. The committee will spend much of the next month taking testimony on the budget, before recommending possible changes later this spring.