License plate

One way the Department of Transportation would cut five percent from its budget would be to eliminate a state requirement for vehicles to have two license plates. 

M.P. KING -- State Journal

Wisconsin vehicles would no longer be required to have two license plates, counties would pay for state parole services and emergency management would stop stockpiling sandbags for communities to fend off floods under $606 million in hypothetical budget cuts agencies submitted to Gov. Scott Walker last week.

The proposals, some submitted under protest, represent the first time agencies were required to comply with a new law requiring budget requests be accompanied by a companion proposal cutting their existing budgets by 5 percent. The plans aren’t binding but provide options for the governor and lawmakers to consider as they prepare the 2017-19 spending plan.

Among the proposed cuts submitted by 45 state agencies: a decrease of nearly 27 state prosecutor positions to help save $2.4 million, millions less in state funding for schools, the elimination of the state’s grain inspection program and fewer course offerings at UW System universities in order to save $195.3 million over two years.

While some agencies offered specific areas that could be reduced or eliminated — such as the Department of Administration proposing to cut more than a dozen areas, including eliminating the state’s locksmith and the contracting out of IT work — other agencies took a broader brush approach.

The Department of Public Instruction, for example, spread $4.6 million in cuts across its budget, including funding for schools.

Others pushed costs onto county governments. The Department of Corrections, for example, would require counties to pick up 45 percent of the cost of supervising parolees, amounting to $54.7 million per year in savings for the department.

Lawmakers earlier this year passed the law that requires state agencies to supplement their biennial budget requests with proposals to maintain the previous year’s budget levels and cut their budgets by 5 percent.

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, the lead Senate co-author, said at the time that the law was an important step to “right-size” state government. He noted then that the state budget has grown from $26.6 billion in 1991 to $73 billion.

While Walker is not required to propose or support such alternatives, “he welcomes the opportunity to review submissions for potential taxpayer savings,” spokesman Jack Jablonski said.

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said it’s difficult to measure the usefulness of the exercise.

“There’s some self-interest in what some agencies put forward,” he said, referring to some agencies submitting cuts that could be perceived as too damaging to services to actually be carried out.

“When this was first discussed, I tried to lower people’s expectations for how useful this exercise was going to be,” said Hintz, a member of the Legislature’s budget committee. Hintz said lawmakers should carefully evaluate what services are being provided and whether there’s a more efficient way to deliver the same level of services.

Shifting costs to county governments, particularly, doesn’t actually save taxpayers money, he said. “The cost doesn’t go away — it’s just that the state’s responsibility does,” Hintz said. “Then it really becomes a really big unfunded mandate.”

Kapenga said his office plans to review compliance “not only with the letter but also the spirit of the law.” Each agency will be graded on its compliance, he said.

“Based on the results we find, further legislation may be warranted to ensure agencies are doing all they can to maximize the value of each dollar received from Wisconsin’s families,” Kapenga said.

The Department of Transportation’s plan includes eliminating a requirement that all Wisconsin vehicles have a front and rear license plate, allowing just the rear plate; reducing the amount of salt the department buys for roads; and eliminating the annual notice vehicle owners receive to renew their registration.

Also on the chopping block: striping on 1,150 miles of roadway, and seven rest stops that would be repurposed or closed. About $8.5 million in maintenance, such as crack filling and road sealing, would be jettisoned.

The Department of Financial Institutions would eliminate about $940,400 per year through not filling vacancies, reducing travel and “other reductions.”

The only example of an agency defying the state law requiring agencies to submit reduction plans was the Educational Communications Board.

The board, which oversees Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television stations, requested funding be restored for its K-12 educational media unit.

In its budget request, the board said it has seen its state funding decrease over the past decade, which has resulted in the elimination of the board’s work “producing and acquiring licensed educational media for use in K-12 classrooms throughout the state.”

That forced the agency to undertake “significant space consolidation and other cost-saving measures” in order to keep the state’s public radio and television broadcasting systems on the air, the board wrote, adding “there is no practical way to trim its budget further.”

Rather than the $774,700 it was supposed to consider cutting over two years, the board asked for an additional $2.7 million.

The Board on Aging and Long-Term Care also protested in offering $157,700 in cuts over two years that would reduce one-on-one casework and on-site facility and Family Care monitoring.

“A reduction of this magnitude will significantly increase waiting times for receipt of services provided by the board’s staff and decrease the number of persons who can be directly served by the advocacy and information programs of the board,” it wrote.

Some agencies noted that the state funding cuts they were offering would result in the loss of federal funds, or cost more money in the end. The State of Wisconsin Investment Board said to achieve $2.7 million in savings it could cut 10 positions, but it would cost $6 million to contract with private asset management.

The Department of Military Affairs said a reduction in Army National Guard facility funding would force armory closures at a time when the size of its force is smaller compared to other states. The resulting loss of force structure would forfeit about $3 in related federal funding for every $1 in state tax savings.

“Communities will be adversely affected by the economic impact of armories closing due to the loss of soldier pay, which comes directly from Department of Defense, and impacts to service contracts that benefit local businesses,” the department wrote.

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What a 5 percent reduction might mean

Details of a hypothetical 5 percent cut to state agencies over two years, and which programs might be affected.

Agency 5 percent cut Potential progam cuts
University of Wisconsin System $195,323,500 Across-the-board reduction
Corrections $109,421,430 Counties pay for supervising parolees
Transportation $98,363,200 Eliminate dual license plates; reduce services at travel centers and annual salt purchase
Health Services $61,088,000 Return Milwaukee Enrollment Services to Milwaukee County; change Senior Care to Medicare Part D wraparound program; stop contracting for long-term care programs
Administration $35,404,000 Replace court reporter for Division of Hearings and Appeals with electronic recordings; eliminate state locksmith and mandated use of electric energy derived from renewable resources
Justice $13,824,000 Eliminate 49 positions, including 13 from State Crime Lab
Public Defender Board $8,596,000 Reduce caseload by changing penalty surcharge/charging process for certain offenses
Veterans Affairs $6,127,800 Separate Wisconsin Veterans Museum from agency
Children and Families $4,966,600 Cut five child abuse investigators in Milwaukee, resulting in loss of federal funds
District Attorneys $4,802,200 Eliminate 27 prosecutor positions statewide
Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection $3,287,500 Eliminate grain inspection and stray voltage programs; reduce positions in fruit and vegetable inspection program
Investment Board $2,675,000 Cut 10 positions, but would require external asset management costing $6 million
Safety and Professional Services $2,039,100 Discontinue continuing education audits; shift trade exams online; contract pharmacy inspections; convert notices from newspaper to electronic
Military Affairs $1,673,200 Eliminate ability for Wisconsin Emergency Management to replenish the stockpile of sandbags for floods; eliminate surplus military equipment for local law enforcement program
Tourism $1,581,600 Eliminate arts and crafts directory; reduce supplies, services, general marketing, memberships, marketing grants and publications
Public Service Commission $866,100 Cut five positions from Office of Commissioner of Railroad and move to DOT
Board on Aging and Long-Term Care $315,400 Reductions in one-on-one casework and schedule of on-site facility and Family Care monitoring
Elections Commission $205,400 Eliminate investigations; reduce voter ID training
Board of Commissioner of Public Lands $158,400 Engage in fewer land sales to reduce administrative costs
Other agencies $55,485,500
Total $606,203,930

Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.