Legislative Update, January 2019

January 11, 2019 1:03 PM | Sally Winkelman (Administrator)

Eric Jensen, Jensen Government Relations, LLC

After what feels like a never-ending election cycle, the 2019-20 Session of the Wisconsin Legislature is finally under way.  Dominating early news following the election:

Governor Tony Evers’ victory in November changes the partisan political dynamic in Madison for the first time in nearly a decade.  While Republicans maintained wide majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, they do not have sufficiently large majorities to override gubernatorial vetoes on their own, meaning as a general rule legislation will need bipartisan support to ensure passage.

The “Lame Duck” (post-election) Legislative Session in December set a contentious early tone to the 2019-20 Session.  However, as Inauguration Day approached, and in speeches given on Inauguration Day, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Governor Evers all spoke to a desire for cooperation, bipartisanship and civility.

The coming Budget Debate.  Prior to his inauguration, Governor Evers announced a variety of items he intends to include in his 2019-21 Budget Proposal (generally announced in Mid-February).  Of particular interest, the Governor made clear he intends to include a Medicaid Expansion proposal based on the original Affordable Care Act’s MA Expansion program.  While Republicans have historically and openly opposed MA Expansion, Senator Fitzgerald has signaled that the Senate will remain open-minded heading into the Budget process.

Typically, the Governor introduces the Budget in mid-February in a speech to a Joint Legislative Session.  Once introduced, the Budget Bill moves on to the Joint Finance Committee (currently made up of 8 Assembly Representatives – 6 GOP and 2 DEM, and 8 Senators – 6 GOP and 2 DEM).  JFC’s work on the Budget includes informational hearings, a period of research and analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a period of hearings during which the Budget is debated and voted on piece-by-piece, and finally passage of a recommended Budget Bill that moves on to the full Legislature.  While the Wisconsin Constitution requires the Budget to be signed by July 1, if that does not happen the State government does not shut down, rather all agencies continue operating at the prior Budget’s funding and programming levels.

This year, it is widely anticipated that rather than working from Governor Evers’ Budget proposal, the GOP-led Legislature will write their own version starting from scratch.  But because the Wisconsin Governor has the power of the line-item veto when it comes to the Biennial Budget, the final product will be one of negotiation – but we may be waiting well into the Fall of 2019 before a final Budget deal is reached.