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Wisconsin Lawmakers Examine Leaner Government Methods

justin w kern

Wisconsin’s state government is pretty lean, compared with other states, but Gov. Walker believes it probably can find more ways to slim down, so he’s created a panel to offer ideas.

Walker’s Commission on Government Reform, Efficiency and Performance recently held its first meeting. Members have a range of places they’d like to look.

Bob Ziegelbauer doesn’t expect the governor’s new panel on government efficiency to come up with any major money saving initiatives, say, as he did when first taking office. The Walker administration led the charge in forcing state workers to pay more for their benefits. Instead, Ziegelbauer views the committee’s mission as a tweaking exercise.

“I would expect we’ll go down the line and concentrate on processes and efficiencies at the customer level,” Ziegelbauer says.

Customers, meaning, Wisconsin taxpayers. Ziegelbauer is Manitowoc’s County Executive and one of 12 people serving on the governor’s new commission. Another is Democratic state Sen. Janis Ringhand. She has specific ideas for running a more efficient government. One, is to streamline the state’s IT systems.

“Just about every department at the state level has its own IT system, approximately 140 individual systems, and that’s going to be consolidated,” Ringhand says.

Ringhand also wants the commission to consider major performance reforms. For instance, digging into Gov. Walker’s job creation agency. WEDC has come under fire for issuing bad loans and losing track of $8 million in loan repayments.

“And leadership has come out recently and acknowledged that maybe it is time to find some reforms there,” Ringhand says.

Ringhand would also like the commission to find a dedicated funding source for transportation, instead of borrowing, as the state is now doing - at least $850 million. It will come due, with interest. Todd Berry is president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. He says state government already is pretty tight.

“If you look at the number of state and local government employees we have relative to the size of our population, we’ve always been relatively lean, even below average. New data from the Census Bureau shows we’re pretty much in the middle of the pack. So, by those measures we don’t stand out as being unusually wasteful or profligate,” Berry says.

Census Bureau figures indicate Wisconsin has seven-percent fewer state workers than the national average, and one of the lowest payrolls among all states.

Yet Berry says it can’t hurt to look for additional ways to streamline. He says he wouldn’t be surprised if the new committee ultimately set its sights on finding savings in the state’s three biggest expenditures: education, Medicaid and corrections.

The commission will submit its recommendations to Gov. Walker next year.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.