MacIver News Service | Jan. 18, 2018

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON, Wis. –  A bill requiring state government agencies to review – and justify – their budgets on a routine basis hit a committee wall Wednesday, and the legislation’s co-author is growing concerned the reform measure could die on the vine.

After relatively smooth sailing in the Senate, the Base Budget Review bill was dropped from the Assembly Committee on State Affairs executive committee agenda literally in the 11th hour.

“We found out at the start of exec there was not going to be a vote on it. No real explanation was given,” said Rep. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) told MacIver News Service Wednesday afternoon, not long after the late-morning committee hearing.

Committee Chairman, Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), did not return a request for comment.

Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), who co-authored the government accountability measure with Sen. David Craig (R-Town of Vernon), called the move by leadership to pull the bill “concerning and confusing.”

“My understanding is that it was pulled because they are waiting for confirmation from the governor’s office that they (the administration) are in support of it,” Hutton said. He found the explanation perplexing.

“We had discussions all along with DOA (Department of Administration). They know it’s coming and they had every intention of letting it go through,” Hutton added.

A spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bill has been “hovering” for two months, Hutton said. It apparently was originally to be messaged over from the Senate, which in early November passed the bill reinstating the zero-based budget review process. Hutton said he was under the impression that, after a successful hearing and committee and floor vote in the Senate, the bill would move to the Assembly floor.

“I’ve been staying on leadership so that it would get to the Assembly floor in December or January. I didn’t know it was going to be put in the State Affairs committee,” the representative said.

As co-author Craig has said of the bill, legislators in the current budget process primarily debate adjustments to spending increases for each agency but never discuss the justification for the original base budget. The bill requires agencies periodically reexamine whether programs and expenditures are “meeting the mission statement of the agency.”

In 2002, Republicans amended the budget to include a base budget review. In 2009, then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and the Dem-controlled Legislature repealed the accountability law.

The Legislature, too, as well as the courts, would have to submit a base budget review report every six years.

“It speaks to why our constituents sent us to Madison in the first place, to control and constrain the growth of government,” Hutton said, noting the legislation adds more teeth to the zero-based budgeting bill the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in the last session.

The lawmaker said the bill is one of a few big reform measures of the abbreviated winter session. He’s worried the clock might run out on the legislation before lawmakers wrap up to campaign this election year.

“We can’t go back to our constituents saying we didn’t get this accomplished,” Hutton said.

This article appears courtesy of the MacIver Institute.
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