Legislative Update – April 6

Joint Finance says they’ll work off governor’s budget – for the most part

The Joint Finance Committee is indicating it will use the governor’s proposed budget as the starting point for its deliberations except in transportation, where it will work off current law. It also identified 83 policy items that will be pulled from the budget to be considered in standalone bills, according to a memo released this afternoon. WEAC will analyze the memo to share more information soon.

Joint Finance Committee public hearings
The Joint Finance Committee began this week with budget hearings in Platteville on Monday and at State Fair Park near Milwaukee on Wednesday. The governor traveled the state as well, touting his proposed budget, which drew a strong reaction from educators at his Milton stop. Friday, the budget-writing panel will travel to Berlin for a third hearing.

Referendum restriction legislation

Just a week after a series of bills began circulating to limit local school board control of school referenda, Wisconsin voters went to the polls to pass about $700 million in public school funding. The winning referendum campaigns underline growing awareness by the public of the impact of severe cuts to public schools over the past few years. Forty of 65 referendum questions passed, down a bit from previous election cycles but still above historical averages.

New voucher spending bill in the works

On the heels of Tuesday’s election, four Democratic legislators are planning a bill to give property taxpayers the final say on whether they want to be on the hook for tax dollars taken directly out of public schools to fund vouchers. The bill would require a referendum to pass before voucher schools can take state aid out of a public school district. The 2015 state budget changed state law to divert state funding to voucher schools at a rate much higher per student than public schools receive.

The Week in Review

April 4

  • Broadband grants. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill (SB 49) to change the criteria for broadband expansion grants and make $18.5 million more available. In advancing the bill, senators also amended it to ban providers from gathering information on customer use without permission. Just a day before, the president repealed rules to require companies to get such permission, including browsing history, financial and other information to create targeted ads.

    The grants, which are used to increase broadband access and capacity, now place a priority on projects that include matching funds, public-private partnerships, and areas with no service providers, among other things. The criteria that the grants promote economic development stress job growth or retention, expansion of the property tax base or improvement of the overall economic activity in an area. Also, the criteria pertaining to areas with no broadband service providers will be deleted. Instead, priority would be given to areas not served by a provider offering Internet service that meet two criteria, including a new standard for upload and download speeds. The bill also transfers $6 million from the universal service fund and $5 million in fed money in DOA’s federal e-rate appropriation to the grant program. It also repeals current limits of no more than $1.5 million in grants being issued in a year.

Don’t see something in the wrap-up? Looking for more information? Contact Christina Brey.