Writing a Bad Check

The budget battles in Madison took a new turn last week when Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch offered a proposal to fund education and local government. Unfortunately, he didn’t offer the proposal at the Conference Committee table; he offered it on the floor of the Assembly.

This is a bit like showing up for work in Menomonie when this week’s job is in Melrose. The work needs to be done at the conference committee not the floor of the Assembly.

At issue are two different versions of the state budget. The work is being done in a conference committee of which Speaker Huebsch is the leading member of the Assembly Republican side.

Proposals have gone back and forth between both sides and some progress has been made. But one the stickiest issues is how to fund education and local government – two big state commitments that need to be resolved so local governments can set their budgets for the coming year.

By going to the floor of the Assembly and passing just the spending for education and local government without the means to pay, Speaker Huebsch and Assembly members wrote a bad check for taxpayers.

Even if the state doesn’t spend another dime this coming two years, the action of the Assembly would put the state in a $115 million hole.

Assembly members called on the Senate to act on the spending bills and solve the problem. If the bill did come to the Senate, it would certainly be amended to include a vital provision to increase aid to rural schools and include the means to pay for all the payments to schools and local government. The two bills would differ from those passed by the Assembly.

And guess where the two different bills would then be resolved?

If you remember your civics lesson, you know the answer – back at the conference committee - where we started.

The antics of last week are a rather silly display of game-playing that seeks to snow those who were sleeping in high school civics class.

The only way to resolve the differences in the two budgets is for both sides to negotiate a complete budget. This includes both what we are going to buy as a state and how we are going to pay for it. We can’t have one without the other.

There have been some hard choices made at the conference table and one of the hardest for senators was to put our health care proposal, Healthy Wisconsin on the table. In an effort to break the log jam, Sen. Robson made an offer that included Healthy Wisconsin to Republicans late Friday afternoon.

The response she received from Speaker Huebsch was to accept her offer to withdraw Healthy Wisconsin from the budget but, “I am offering you nothing in return.”

Needless to say, no deal was reached. Healthy Wisconsin remains very much alive – even if it does turn into a ‘stand alone’ bill – a bill not part of the budget.

For real negotiations, both sides must be willing to negotiate. The decisions made must include both what we are going to spend and how we are going to pay for it. Writing a bad check does not a budget make.

Have ideas on solving our problems in state government? Let me know! Write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or sen.vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov; call Black River Falls (715) 284-1730; Eau Claire at (715) 838-0448 or Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free). Visit my website at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen31/news/