Wisconsin State Budget: 2015-2017

Governor Walker’s proposed budget is giving Wisconsin the cold shoulder. His budget aims to freeze land protection efforts, undermine science, further politicize natural resource management, and more.

Slogging through the nitty gritty of a state budget can be overwhelming and confusing. This page is your resource for up-to-date news and analysis about the budget.

OUR ANALYSIS

Click here for an in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of Governor Walker’s proposed 2015-2017 budget.

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THE ROLE OF A STATE BUDGET

The state budget should reflect the values of Wisconsin citizens, which includes a desire to protect natural resources for today and for future generations. A pro-conservation budget should:

  • Maintain or increase the DNR staffing levels needed to carry out the agency’s mission of protecting and managing Wisconsin’s natural resources, including enforcing the laws in place to protect our natural resources.
  • Prioritize the protection of public health and natural resources over polluters and bad actors. This includes making it more difficult for polluters to cut corners and expose our air, land, and water to more toxins.
  • Maintain transparency by keep the public informed about changes that impact natural resource programs and our exposure to pollutants.
  • Refrain from reallocating funds collected for conservation purposes to finance unrelated programs.
  • Avoid non-fiscal policy changes that impact natural resources and public health protections.
  • Promote practices and programs that prevent pollution and environmental degradation to minimize the need for cleanup funds in the future.

CONSERVATION LOWLIGHTS

Freezing the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

ColdBoyResizeGovernor Walker’s proposed budget would freeze land acquisitions until 2028.
The Stewardship Program protects vital lands and waters in Wisconsin, providing us with places to hunt, hike, fish, bike, and canoe. Read more about the Stewardship Program here.

Despite a long history of bipartisan support for the Stewardship Program, Governor Walker’s proposed budget would freeze it until 2028. This unprecedented action would jeopardize the lands that make Wisconsin so special – for the citizens of Wisconsin and for Wisconsin’s economy. Everyone has memories of time spent in our favorite Wisconsin place – fishing, hiking, or just running around a park. But lands supported by the Stewardship Program also contribute to Wisconsin’s $13 billion tourism industry, $22 billion forestry industry, and $4 billion hunting and fishing industry.

Eliminating Science, Education, and Communication Staff at DNR

Governor Walker’s proposed budget would cut 66 fulltime DNR staff positions, specifically targeting jobs at the Bureau of Scientific Services and Communication and Education.
The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for, among other things, managing wildlife, pollution, and land conservation. For the DNR to implement sound management, we need qualified staff – not politics – driving environmental protocol.

Governor Walker’s proposed cut leaves natural resources out in the cold. It would target 31% of the currently budgeted positions in the Bureau of Scientific Services, which would impact the agency’s capacity for scientific analysis. The cuts also target professionals in environmental education and communications – jobs critical to helping citizens engage with Wisconsin’s abundant natural resources. Read more about how the DNR would be impacted by the budget here.

Politicizing Natural Resource Management

Governor Walker’s proposed budget would eliminate citizen oversight of the DNR.
Wisconsin has always been a leader in conservation, in large part because Aldo Leopold created the Natural Resources Board to be the citizens’ voice for our natural resources. The Board – made up of well-informed citizens from across the state – helps the DNR set scientifically sound natural resource management policies.

Governor Walker’s proposed budget would kneecap the Natural Resources Board, stripping it of its authority and making it advisory-only. This move will fundamentally change Wisconsin’s long-standing citizen-engaged natural resource management style, pushing aside science for politics. There are countless ways this shift would impact natural resource management in Wisconsin. Just one example is that Governor Walker-appointed DNR Secretary, Cathy Stepp – a developer by trade – would be solely in charge of determining which of our public lands can be sold off. Stepp would have free rein to sell any public land she wants, when she wants, potentially leaving our most valued places vulnerable. Read more about how the DNR would be impacted by the budget here.

Undermining Renewable Energy

Governor Walker’s proposed budget would allocate $250,000 to continue studying the human health effects of wind turbines.
ColdWomanResizeIn an era dominated by fossil fuel energy – well documented to have negative human health impacts resulting from soot, mercury, and other toxins – wind power has proved to be a safe and reliable source of clean and renewable energy in Wisconsin. We know this because the human health effects of wind turbines have already been studied. In a 2014 report, the Wind Siting Council did not find that wind turbines have any direct negative effect on human health. Yet Governor Walker’s proposal will continue to slow down wind production in Wisconsin. He has earmarked $250,000 – money that could go towards helping Wisconsin become a leader in renewable energy production – to slow down the industry by requiring an additional, unnecessary study.

STATE BUDGET PROCESS

Governor Walker released his proposed state budget on February 3, 2015. But that is just the first step to passing a state budget. In fact, the budget does not need to be finalized until the end of June. The process takes several months because multiple government agencies and legislative bodies are given the opportunity to amend and vote on the budget before it is finally signed by the Governor. Here’s how it works:

  • The powerful 16-member Joint Finance Committee meets regularly, holding public hearings and listening to invited testimony from government agencies. During this time, they will vote on each piece of the budget, including new motions that are often policy oriented.
  • The budget goes to the state legislature, starting in the state Senate this year. The Senate and the Assembly will each debate, amend, and vote on the budget.
  • If the Senate and Assembly do not reach agreement on the budget’s language, there will be a conference committee comprising members of both houses. Together, they revise the budget, which is then voted on again by the full Senate and Assembly. This process is repeated until a majority of each house agrees on the budget.
  • Once the Senate and Assembly agree on the budget, it goes back to the Governor to be signed. Governor Walker has the most powerful veto pen in the country and can make extensive line item vetoes before signing the budget into law.
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