To increase government transparency and accountability, four Assembly Republicans announced the proposal of a package of bills to change the way the state budget is handled.
Reps. Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and Brett David, R-Oregon, introduced the proposals at a press conference Tuesday morning.
According to the state representatives, the bills will help guarantee the state’s long-term fiscal health by relying on honest budgeting practices and eliminating the need for one-time funding sources to address the state’s budget shortfalls.
The first bill introduced was the Truth in Budgeting Act, which would require the state to achieve a balanced budget by the 2015-16 biennium.
The proposal would also require that once every 10 years, each government agency prepares its budget using the principles of zero-based budgeting, justifying each component on cost and need.
“The challenges we are now confronting [are] that we have run out of one-time money and budget tricks,” Vukmir said. “This is the first step towards finally balancing the state budget, moving us towards a truly balanced budget.”
The bill is currently being circulated for co-sponsorship.
The second bill, The Government Checkbook Disclosure Act, would create a searchable online database of state government expenditures over $25, right down to a copy of the check, according to Kramer.
“I think it will show what that government spends its money on, both good and bad,” Kramer said.
Kramer added while a similar service is provided by the state fiscal bureau, the database would make the information simpler for citizens. The database would be modeled off a similar program designed by the federal government.
According to Kramer, since the federal program has been so successful, the government is making the software available to all states, greatly reducing any costs associated with the program.
The final bill, The Earmark Transparency Act, was introduced by Zipperer to help raise public awareness about earmarks included in bills.
The proposal would require an earmark transparency report to be filed before the Legislature votes on any proposal and would include information on the location of the earmark and the legislator who introduced it, Zipperer said.
The proposal would also prohibit conference committees from putting “airdrops” into the budget during the final stages of legislation. Airdrops are earmarks put in by the committees that were not approved earlier during the budget process.
Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, believes many of the reforms have been discussed before and will likely be considered, spokesperson Rebekah Sweeney said.
However, Sweeney is cautious of the negative effects they might have on the federal stimulus money the state is expected to receive.
“At this point, we don’t want to set up a roadblock for the stimulus money,” Sweeney said. “We want to get things up and running.”