The Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) met on Tuesday, May 23 and Thursday, May 25, 2023. Between the two days, we took action on workforce development, veterans’ issues, right-sizing government and increasing transparency. We completed our work on the following agencies: Department of Workforce Development (DWD), Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI), Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB), Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), Department of Revenue (DOR), Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Employee Trust Funds (ETF) and Miscellaneous Appropriations.
Employers all over Wisconsin are struggling to hire workers. The JFC is focused on workforce development by making some key investments in DWD, WEDC and via our technical college system. Our technical colleges are nimble, responsive and connected to the business community. When our communities need workers to be trained in specific areas, the technical colleges are on it almost immediately. They are creative and collaborative.
The technical colleges in Wisconsin are primarily funded with tuition, fees and property taxes. However, we increased general aid to the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) by $9.4 million and provided $5 million to district boards for a variety of programs conducted by the central office for all of the campuses.
We also invested $7 million more into Youth Apprenticeship and $3 million more into Career and Technical Education (CTE) Incentive grants, which are both extremely effective programs that encourage high school students to explore all kinds of future employment. We added $500,000 for Commercial Driver License (CDL) Training grants to help workers achieve CDL licensure.
Finally, we directed the WEDC to spend $4 million on talent attraction efforts to recruit and retain workers for Wisconsin. We set aside $2 million of this funding to be focused on recruiting veterans to make Wisconsin their first move when they are discharged from military service. Wisconsin is a tremendous state for veterans. We have very good benefit programs, terrific County Veteran Service Officers (CVSOs) who connect veterans with resources and high quality of living.
Speaking of veterans, we placed $5 million for the Veterans’ Homes into the JFC’s supplemental account to provide some support as we study next steps for these facilities. The agency may request them if they need them.
The agency is conducting a study to determine what the veterans’ homes need in order to continue operating and/or improve services. We set the deadline for this study to January 1, 2025 in order for the study to be completed before the next state budget is written. There are major problems at the veterans’ homes at King and Union Grove. We need to figure out what is best for the future of these important facilities and the services provided for our veterans.
Finally, we continue to take steps to right-size government and increase transparency. Right-sizing government includes efforts that remove positions that have been vacant for at least 18 months, if not much, much longer as well as reducing funding for obsolete programs or left-over allocations.
Many of our state employees are working fewer hours physically in state office buildings. We should be able to realize savings for things like utilities and supplies if people are not physically in state office spaces.
We also created a plan to support WisconsinEye by setting aside $10 million for a matching grant for whatever the organization can raise by the end of the biennium. WisconsinEye provides real-time and recorded broadcasts of committee meetings, floor sessions, press conferences and more. They are an independent, non-profit organization, but they have been seeking some state support for operations. The stipulations of the matching grant require WisEye to take down a paywall that currently requires a paid subscription. The legislature wants to increase transparency and access.
The JFC will be meeting again on Thursday, June 1, 2023 to discuss the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Department of Tourism (Tourism), Appropriation Obligation Bonds, Building Commission and the Building Program.
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