The $91-billion, two-year Wisconsin state budget is still in the hands of the legislative Joint Finance Committee (JFC), more than four months after being proposed by Governor Tony Evers.
This isn’t unusual, and the Council is monitoring the JFC as it continues to work through the budget, piece-by-piece. Lawmakers from both the Senate and Assembly are appointed by legislative leaders to the JFC which considers the budget as proposed by the governor while also adding its own items throughout the process.
The JFC just made some decisions on issues important for people who are visually impaired or blind, and we want you to know how you could be impacted, but also how you can still advocate for yourself and others before the budget becomes law.
First, here’s how the budget got to this point.
The State Budget Process Begins
Wisconsin’s budget is biennial and runs for two years from July of an odd-numbered year through June of the next odd-numbered year. This budget, once approved, will be the state’s spending plan from July 2021 through June 2023.
The process of developing the budget started months earlier. State agencies work with partners like the Council to submit a budget request to the governor and can be based on suggested terms like limiting overall spending or putting money toward certain services. The governor uses those requests to propose the state budget and outlines the highlights during a budget address to the legislature.
The Legislature Takes Up the Budget
The next step of the process starts with the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee which holds hearings around the state. It’s an opportunity for residents to weigh in on what is important in the budget. This year those hearings were held both in person and online.
The Council, like many organizations around the state, planned advocacy days online in April to discuss the specific budget items benefitting people who live with vision loss and shared ways to ask your lawmakers to take action.
The JFC is currently voting on individual provisions of the budget, including some of the items important to the Council:
Transportation and Accessibility for Nondrivers
- The JFC voted to approve the budget proposal for paratransit and transit funding to increase by 2.5 percent each during the next two budget years.
It also voted in support of an incremental funding increase of 2.5 percent for the Specialized Transit Assistance Program.
- The JFC voted against adding two Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices, one in Green Bay, the other in Madison. The Council is advocating for these additional offices to remain in the budget. Accessibility to the DMV is vital for people with vision impairments to be able to get important documents, like the state voter ID.
- It also voted to decrease funding for mass transit in Madison and Milwaukee by 50 percent during the 2021-2022 budget, returning it to current levels in 2022-2023. The Council would like to see the governor’s proposal of a 2.5 percent increase restored in the budget.
- The JFC voted against any increase in Tribal transportation programs. The Council advocates in support of accessibility and equity for all.
Action: If you use any of the transportation programs being cut by the JFC, tell your legislator your story, and why it’s important to help you get to work, school or healthcare appointments.
And we want to encourage you to tell your legislator what these transportation programs mean to you. The JFC’s votes in support are in line with the governor’s proposals, and we thank the committee for realizing the importance.
Training and Work-related Programs
- The JFC voted against increasing resources in the Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). The governor’s proposal would have boosted the state match for a federal grant and created a position to support vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.
The Council is advocating to return the governor’s proposal to the budget. Any cuts could lead to a waiting list for individuals to receive training via the DVR. This hasn’t happened since 2014.
Action: Contact your legislator to tell them why adequate funding is important to support vocational rehabilitation services.
Public Instruction Focused on Special Education
- The JFC voted to provide an additional $17.8 million in 2021-22 and $67.6 million in 2022-23 for special education aid. The governor’s proposal would have increased special education aid by $296.6 million in 2021-22 and by $412.8 million in 2022-23 based on estimates that special education costs will go up by 4 percent a year.
- The Committee did not approve a funding increase for special education transition readiness grants which includes transportation, professional development and employment of adequate school personnel.
Action: If you care about education, the Council hopes you will contact your legislator to share how special education is needed to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired students. These services are crucial to give students a better chance of success.
What’s Still Ahead in the Budget Process?
Once the JFC has completed its budget draft, it then goes to the full Senate or Assembly. Lawmakers in both chambers can propose amendments, make changes, and debate the budget bill.
Once the Senate and Assembly agree and pass one budget, it goes back to the governor who can sign it into law or make line-item vetoes, including changing dollar values, getting rid of language, or even crossing out whole budget items.
The budget is supposed to be signed into law by July 1, however if that doesn’t happen, there is not a government shutdown similar to what happens at the federal level.
It is Not too Late to Advocate
It is key for elected officials to hear from you as they continue to decide which priorities are the most important to receive funding.
It is not too late for you to share your story. Tell your legislators what is important to you, and how these programs impact your life. Find your elected officials and their contact information on the state legislature website.
If you have questions or want to know more about other items in the budget, you can get in touch with Council CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess at DJess@WCBlind.org or (608) 237-8103.
- Find a link to contact your legislator along with our legislative briefing documents on the Council’s website.
- Read more about some of the budget items and our asks for action on the Council’s website.
- Learn more about the current action on the budget through this helpful timeline created by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.