The governor’s budget address and what happens next …

Governor Tony Evers will deliver his inaugural budget address to a joint legislative session Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7:00 p.m. The address will be covered live by Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here’s a primer on how the state budget process works and what will happen after the speech is done.

Budget Address Required by Law — By law, the Governor is required to deliver the biennial budget message to the Legislature on or before the last Tuesday in January of the odd-numbered year. However, the Governor may request the Legislature to approve a later submittal date by passing a joint resolution. For 18 of the last 20 biennial budgets, a delayed submittal date has been requested by a Governor.  (Gov. Evers originally requested to be given until March 5 to submit his budget. The Legislature approved an extension until Feb. 28.)

  • Biennial (two-year) Budget bill — Unlike local governments, the state operates on a biennial (or two-year) budget cycle. Wisconsin’s biennial budget bill sets tax and spending levels for a two-year period beginning on July 1 of odd-numbered years.
  • Budget Bill Must be Introduced — By law, immediately after the Governor delivers the budget message, the budget bill must be introduced, without change, by the Joint Finance Committee (or JFC , see below).  The JFC is scheduled to meet at 8:00 p.m. Thursday to introduce the budget bill.  Upon introduction, the budget bill must be referred back to that Committee for review. Because of the sheer size and scope of the budget bill, the JFC’s review is extensive, lasting several months.

Joint Finance Committee (JFC) — This 16-member legislative panel consists of eight senators and eight representatives. Six members from each house are appointed from the majority party, and two members are appointed from the minority party.  Currently, there are 12 GOP members and 4 Democrats. The JFC is responsible for holding public hearings and taking votes on all revenue and spending bills, including the state budget, in addition to other duties.

  • Legislative Fiscal Bureau Summary Document Prepared — Shortly after i the governor’s budget bill is introduced, a comprehensive explanatory document is prepared by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).This summary document, available on the LFB website once issued, provides a wealth of information for those interested in such details. It breaks the budget bill down according to which state agency is responsible for the particular program(s) being funded. Most K-12 provisions will be found under Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

Agency Briefings and Public Hearings — Once the LFB summary document is issued, the JFC begins to hold public hearings on the Governor’s proposed budget. These hearings are typically of two types: (1) informational agency briefings; and (2) public hearings.

  • Agency briefings are hearings at which representatives of state agencies, typically the head of the agency, present testimony on the Governor’s budget bill and the effect that the proposed budget would have on the agency and its programs. Typically, agency briefings take place at the Capitol in late March.
  • Public hearings are Committee sessions at which members of the general public are heard regarding any area of the proposed state budget of concern to them. Agency representatives and lobbyists are asked not to testify at these hearings. Typically, these public hearings take place in April at various locations around the state. Two years ago, six public hearings were held in Platteville, West Allis, Berlin, Spooner, Ellsworth, and Marinette.

Advocacy Tip: These public hearings are an excellent opportunity for school leaders to communicate their priorities and viewpoints on the proposed state budget to members of the JFC. In addition, local legislators often attend the hearings held in their area to listen to the testimony of area residents. 

Around the same time these hearings are held, individual legislators will often hold budget “listening sessions” or “office hours” at various public locations in their districts to gather input on the proposed budget from their constituents. These “listening sessions” are also great opportunities for school leaders to communicate their priorities and viewpoints on the proposed state budget. Check your local newspapers or your legislators’ e-newsletter or website to find the dates, times and locations.

JFC Executive Sessions — Once the public hearings are completed, the JFC begins to hold executive sessions at which it begins making decisions and taking votes on the Governor’s recommended budget and proposed changes to it. These executive sessions typically take place in May.

While these executive sessions are open to the public, testimony or commentary from the public or agency officials is not taken. The discussion is between Committee members, Legislative Fiscal Bureau staff, and State Budget Office staff.

The JFC operates by adopting motions to approve or amend individual portions of the budget.  If approved, the motions are translated into legislative bill language and ultimately are compiled into a substitute amendment, which, when approved by the JFC, then takes the place of the original bill.

Consideration by the Full Legislature — When JFC completes its work, the bill, in the form of a substitute amendment, moves to each legislative house for further amendments and approval. The bill is considered first in once house (e.g., the Senate) and then moves to the second house (e.g., Assembly). To reach the governor’s desk the bill must be passed in identical form by both houses in order.

Governor’s Review and Veto — Once passed by both houses in identical form, the final bill then heads to the governor, who may sign it; let it take effect without signing it; veto it entirely; or use his partial veto authority to veto portions of the bill (e.g., to reduce spending or to strike out words or phrases in the bill).

The budget bill (less any items deleted by the Governor’s partial veto) then becomes the state fiscal policy document for the next two years.

The Legislature may override a governor’s veto with a two-thirds vote by each house, and thus enact any vetoed portion into law, notwithstanding the objections of the Governor.