WISCREPORT.COM (10/3/07) - In response to a state budget stalemate that is now dragging into its fourth month, State Representative Louis Molepske, Jr. (D-Stevens Point) will begin circulating legislation for co-sponsorship that will set budget benchmarks and hold state legislators accountable for unnecessary delays in passing a budget. Molepske hopes the Budget Accountability Act will correct the practice of late budgets.
“Twenty-three states currently require some type of government shutdown if a budget is not agreed upon by the start of the fiscal year,” said Molepske. “Under current state law, legislators are in no way held accountable for their failure to agree upon a budget, which is their primary responsibility. In such a system, legislators are more able to delay real negotiations at the expense of the general public.”
Wisconsin is now the only state in the country with a July 1 budget deadline that is still without a budget.
Although severe, a government shutdown and legislator pay deferrals would put pressure on state legislators to pass a budget in a timely fashion, pressure that is lacking under Wisconsin’s current budget process that continues spending at current levels without a vote by its legislators and without consequences.”
“School districts, municipalities and our great university system rely on firm numbers from the State to create their own budgets,” continued Molepske. “If we do not do our jobs, they cannot possibly do theirs, which in turn puts students, state employees and the general public in a precarious position. Recently, we learned about a myriad of negative effects that any further delay in passing a budget could have on the State; this must not occur.”
“With these concerns in mind, I am introducing legislation that will require specific budget benchmarks and the deferral of state legislators’ pay after the budget deadline is broken and until a budget is agreed upon, as well as require a budget resolution to be passed before the State can
continue to operate at pervious spending levels. In this manner, legislators will be held accountable for the impact that their actions, or rather lack thereof, can have on the general public.
“Why should legislators continue to be paid by the taxpayers when we break our own statutory budget deadline? The joint finance committee and a conference committee should work no less than a basic forty-hour work week to finish the budget so that the July 1st deadline is not exceeded. Obviously this type of work schedule has not occurred and it should,” said Molepske.
The “Budget Accountability Act” will do the following:
• If no budget is in place by July 1st, a joint resolution will be required to allow the State to continue spending at the previous biennium’s funding levels;
• “Essential services,” which are those core governmental functions that deal with the health, safety and general welfare of the state, will be exempt from the resolution requirement so citizens are not put at risk;
• In the event that a budget agreement is not reached by August 1st, all state legislators’ paychecks will be deferred until a budget is finalized. The August 1st
date is designed to allow for a reasonable amount of time for negotiations to take place before pay-deferrals occur;
• If a budget is still not in place by September 1st, previous biennium spending will end & government furloughs will begin (excluding essential services).
“I am hopeful that this legislation will help to address the concerns that I have been hearing from my constituents and K-12, higher-education and local government institutions over the course of the past several months regarding the budget impasse,” Molepske says.
“There is no question that the current system allows legislators, regardless of party affiliation, to dig their heels in on their respective positions without any regard for the impact that it could have on the general public and those putting together budgets as required by state statute."
"This bill strives for a better budget process and a more reflective legislature that works with our constituents who are already dealing with the repercussions of missing a budgetary deadline,” concluded Molepske.