The state budget is once again in trouble, and Wisconsin lawmakers are considering their options to correct it.
Gov. Scott McCallum said that, as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, Wisconsin will experience a revenue loss of between $300 million and $1.3 billion.
The governor met with legislative leaders on Tuesday and last Friday to discuss the possibility of calling a special session of the legislature, which would center on spending cuts in certain areas.
McCallum said while Wisconsin needs to address problems with the budget, he does not want Wisconsin’s education initiatives or prescription-drug program damaged in the process.
Mike Browne, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison, said they are pleased with the governor’s stand against reducing funds for education, since such a move might force local governments to raise property taxes.
“[Chvala] told the governor last Friday that anything which raises property taxes would be unacceptable,” Browne said. “We are happy to hear the governor agreed with the senator.”
When McCallum signed the budget in August, a prescription-drug plan was included to provide assistance to approximately 260,000 senior citizens. The plan will be funded by a cigarette tax, scheduled to go into effect next September. The budget also included an additional $380 million over the next two years for the state’s elementary and secondary schools.
However, Steve Baas, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, said McCallum has said if the situation becomes much worse, no programs will escape possible funding cuts.
“The governor made it very clear to us that everything is on the table,” Baas said. “Once we know the magnitude of the problem, we will start to make a list of priorities.”
Baas said the legislature is prepared to examine all options except for increasing taxes. McCallum agrees that a tax hike is out of the question.
Additionally, McCallum issued a hiring freeze for state employees last week in response to the budget shortfalls. McCallum expects the freeze to save $10 million. Browne said Senate Democrats have been in contact with the governor since the economic downfall to find a solution to the state’s economic problem.
“The governor wanted to open up lines of communication with the legislature to start the process of addressing potential revenue shortfalls,” Browne said.
Since a substantial source of state revenue is collected from sales tax during the Christmas season, Browne said Chvala would prefer to wait until more accurate numbers are available before agreeing to a special session.
“We need to have a better handle on the numbers before you can address the problem,” Browne said. “The solution for $300 million is much different than for $1.3 billion.” Baas said although a special legislative session seems likely, due to the revenue shortcomings, no date has been agreed to yet. “It’s up to the governor’s discretion,” Baas said. “The governor is not going to call a special session until we have specific numbers.”