MADISON, Wis. – In an industrious day that saw a flurry of bills passed, the Republican-controlled Senate moved forward several government accountability measures Tuesday.
The flood of activity comes as GOP leadership looks to wrap up a short but busy winter session by the end of the week.
Among the bills passing in the Senate was the amended version of proposal that prohibits a legislator from concurrently holding office as county executive.
“I believe that by voting for this proposal, members from both sides of the aisle can be proud to have stood against double dipping by elected officials,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in a statement. The Juneau Republican is the co-author of Senate Bill 707. which passed, 19-13, with Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, not voting.
“This bill is a common-sense and long overdue taxpayer protection, which will help to ensure that our state taxpayers will not have to foot the bill for a state legislator drawing on multiple public salaries totaling over $150,000 annually,” Fitzgerald added.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, called the measure the “height of hypocrisy” by the Republican majority.
Shilling and her left-leaning colleagues insist the bill was introduced by Republicans to block Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, a Democratic candidate in the 18th Senate District, from serving in the Legislature.
“The fact that we’re in the last days of session and this bill tops the Republican to-do list shows the height of their hypocrisy and the extent of their misplaced priorities,” Shilling said in a statement.
But Fitzgerald countered that the Dem talking points don’t hold water. The bill, he said, does not prevent anyone from running for office. It simply adds county executives to the list of elected officials who are already prohibited by Wisconsin’s constitution from serving simultaneously in the legislature, “and in so doing prevents conflicts of interest and provides certainty to voters.”
The Senate, on a party-line vote (19-14), also passed the Budgetary Accountability for State Expenditures, or BASE, Act. It requires state agencies to include in their two-year budget requests plans to reduce their spending by 5 percent and maintain current spending levels for all state operations – with few exceptions.
“Since 1991, the Wisconsin state budget has nearly tripled from $26.6 billion to $73 billion for the 2015-2017 budget. Not only has our overall budget grown over that period of time, but it has done so at over three times the rate of inflation,” said Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, the bill’s co-author.
Kapenga said the Legislature has taken great strides over the past five years to improve the state’s fiscal accountability by, among other things, reducing bonding and improving the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) deficit.
“However, in order to properly right-size government, better tools are needed to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of each dollar spent. The BASE Act is a first step towards achieving that goal.”
There’s work to be done on the General Fund’s GAAP deficit, too. A Legislative Audit Bureau review this week found the deficit increased from $1.4 billion on June, 30, 2014, to $1.8 billion as of June 30, 2015.
The State’s outstanding long-term debt remained at $13.6 billion as of June 30, according to the audit.
State Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, said passage of the BASE bill will “promote transparency” within state agencies and “provide oversight in addressing the trajectory” of state spending.
“It’s critical we evaluate subsequent biennium budgets in context with our long-term budget and fiscal objectives,” Hutton said in a statement.
And the Senate passed legislation creating a Department of Public Instruction-led pilot program to track crime and safety incidents in public school districts.
In the 2011-12 school year, 11.3 percent of Wisconsin teachers reported that they were physically attacked by their students, the highest percentage in the nation, according to federal data. About 13.7 percent of teachers reported they were threatened with injury by their students.
The reports are largely anecdotal, however, because Wisconsin lacks the necessary data to track the incidents, “putting students and teachers at risk,” said Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, one of the bill’s sponsors. She called the passage of SB 492 a “step in the right direction to creating a safer learning environment” for Wisconsin’s students.
“SB 492 will inform parents about school culture, and will afford DPI and local school districts a responsible study about the best methods for reporting and analyzing data,” Lazich said.