Jan. 15, 2015 – Wisconsin lawmakers don’t agree on much, but when it comes to the Green Bay Packers, politicians will quickly rise to their feet to make sure their constituents know where their football loyalties reside. Gov. Scott Walker, in his annual State of the State address, made sure that it was known that one of his main agenda items in the coming weeks was to cheer on the green and gold as they continue their playoff push. Walker also presented a vision of small and more efficient government, and a focus on school reforms and accountability.
With the continued speculation and possible movement toward a presidential run in 2016, Walker’s speech didn’t include many policy details or specific agenda items that he wanted to pass, although the governor did reference past tax cuts and his desire to continue to keep taxes low with future cuts and reforms. The speech also referenced the governor’s desire for the state to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over newly proposed energy standards.
Focus Shifts to Biennial Budget Proposal and State Agency Consolidation
The attention will now turn to Walker’s proposed 2015-17 biennial budget recommendations. Current revenue projections show that the state is currently facing a shortfall of more than $800 million, and depending on agency proposals, that deficit could balloon to upwards of $2 billion. Both the governor and legislative leaders have indicated that they will cut state spending, and that further wholesale tax reductions or reforms might be difficult in this current fiscal climate.
Any additional state spending reductions could potentially have an impact on court funding. In the last biennial budget, the state court system dealt with an $11.8 million lapse that had to be returned to the state’s general operations fund. Currently, the state’s judicial system receives around .85 percent of every penny of state tax dollars. The state court system and the State Bar of Wisconsin would like to increase that contribution so that it equals a penny or, a “Penny for Justice.”
One of the items that the governor did offer some details on during his speech was his desire to consolidate some state agencies. The governor indicated that his biennial budget proposal will include plans to merge the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Of much more importance to attorneys is the proposal to combine the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) with the Department of Safety and Professional Service (DSPS). DFI currently administers notary public appointments for attorneys, but also deals with Uniform Commercial Code filings, Securities regulation, and corporations’ filings.
Cale Battles is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached at org cbattles wisbar wisbar cbattles org, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
Selection of Chief Justice Constitutional Amendment Moving Forward
Republicans are quickly moving legislation that would change how the chief justice is selected. Currently, the chief is determined by longevity of service. The proposed constitutional amendment passed last session would change that process and would determine the selection by a vote of justices. Early in this 2015 session, both the Senate and Assembly voted to adopt Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR 2). Republicans were pushing for a timely vote in hopes that the constitutional amendment could be placed on the ballot for a public referendum during the 2015 spring election. In order to qualify for public referendum, the proposed amendment had to pass in two consecutive legislation sessions without changes.
Governor Walker’s Budget Address
Walker is scheduled to give his budget address to the Legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015.