[Update at the bottom]
Wisconsin is generally considered to have good open meetings/open records, “sunshine” laws. However, it appears that significant revisions of the state’s 2009-11 biennial budget is moving through the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) with little or no public scrutiny, analysis of any sort, and no opportunity for fully informed public input. Meetings were held and crucial votes taken over the weekend, continuing today. This is not good governance.
Late on Thursday May 21, 2009 Governor Jim Doyle and Joint Finance Co-Chairs Mark Pocan and Mark Miller announced a deal on a budget “fix” involving significant cuts to many programs and services, including $291 million in state funding for education. On Friday May 22, Secretary of Administration Michael Morgan issued a memo on the “fix” that was short on details and long on spin. It contained one paragraph on education funding and left many questions unanswered, including whether school districts will be allowed to raise property taxes to make up for the cuts from the state and how the cuts will be balanced between general aid and categorical aid.
Today (Tuesday 5/26) the agenda for the Wednesday, May 27 1:00 PM meeting was announced. It is a full plate including shared revenue for municipalities and counties, taxes, health services, transportation, children and families and the following education items:
Public Instruction — General School Aids and Revenue Limits
Public Instruction — Categorical Aids
Public Instruction — School District Operations
Public Instruction — Choice and Charter
Although the Assembly and the Senate will get a crack at the results of the Joint Finance work, one-party rule will likely mean that what gets decided tomorrow, stays decided.
As of 7:55 PM, May 26, less than 18 hours prior to the Joint Finance meeting where the fate of education for the next two years will be decided, essential questions about the “fix” remain unavailable to the public.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) has been scrambling to prepare new analyses, taking into account the budget cuts Doyle, Pocan and Miller favored over revenue reforms, but they have yet to get to the education matters (click on the link for the latest analyses, as noted the papers for the Wednesday session are not there as of this posting). Without either text of the “fix’ or an analysis, it is impossible to give a fully informed opinion and therefore difficult to attempt to influence members of the Joint Finance Committee or mobilize others to contact the JFC.
The published 2009-11 Budget Procedures for the Joint Committee on Finance, promised that
LFB Budget Papers. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau will attempt to distribute its papers at least 72 hours prior to each of the Committee’s executive sessions.
Obviously this isn’t happening. I don’t blame the LFB; I fault the politicians who apparently want to wield their budget saws and axes in the shadows, outside of public awareness, without public input.
What’s even worse is that without the analyses of the LFB, the members of the Joint Finance Committee will vote without comprehending the full consequences of their choices.
This is bad governance any way you look at it.
Update (2:02 PM, 5/27): According to the WisPolitics Budget blog the 5/27 JFC session will not start till 4:00 PM at the earliest. An agenda for 5/28 has been released, listing the items that has previously been on the 5/27 agenda. No LFB papers on the education items have been posted.
Thomas J. Mertz