Monday, February 5, 2018

Recap of Public Hearing on Senate Bill 713

The Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection held a public hearing last week on Senate Bill 713, which would eliminate the BCPL Trust Fund Loan Program and the requirement that Common School Fund dollars be spent on school library funding. It also gives the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) more authority to invest BCPL trust fund dollars. 

The bill authors, Senator Stroebel and Representative Hutton, both testified in support of the bill. State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk was the only other person to formally speak in favor of the bill. 

Senator Stroebel, Representative Hutton and State Treasurer Adamczyk all said they support the bill because SWIB would be able to make even more money for the trust fund accounts than BCPL—they specifically argued that SWIB could double the money.  In regard to the elimination of the Common School Fund language about school libraries, the supporters argued that the bill gives schools local control and flexibility. They said that it is disappointing that the school community does not support this legislation and said it is “disingenuous” for schools to object to taking on more local control after asking for it for so long. 

State Treasurer Adamczyk said that they aren’t going to eliminate school libraries. However, he did acknowledge that moving money over to SWIB would lead to years where the funds won't make any money and years where they would make a lot more. He also voiced his support for taking library funding out of BCPL and just having the legislature fund it separately.

Senator Kapenga (R-Pewaukee) expressed his support for the legislation. Senator Wirch (D-Somers) said that people need to keep in mind that the stock market may be doing well now but that that is not always the case. 

Jonathan Barry, the executive secretary of the BCPL, testified for information only but he responded to several assertions being made, including that if SWIB had invested BCPL trust fund money the same way they manage the Wisconsin Retirement System funds, significantly more money would have gone to public schools. Barry said it is "not a fair analogy" because"SWIB would be subject to the same constitutional limitations as BCPL and therefore would not likely produce any better investment returns" if they managed the funds for real. 

"If SWIB has a down year, it reaches into principal and the retirees still get paid. If BCPL were to have a down year, there would be no money available for school library books, computers and software in most of the school districts throughout Wisconsin," said Barry. 

The Wisconsin Towns Association testified against the bill as did several town officials from across Wisconsin. They spoke about the importance of the BCPL trust fund loan program and how banks often won’t agree to the types of terms towns need—like longer loan periods. They said many of their local infrastructure projects would not have been possible without the BCPL loan program.

The following WEMTA members spoke at the hearing: Mandy Meloy, Kay Benning, Jeannine Ramesy, Lawrence Gillick, and Laura Marusinec. Renee Deschard submitted written testimony. 

Next steps:  the Committee will need to take a vote on the bill. It is not clear when this will happen. The Assembly Committee on State Affairs has the Assembly Companion Bill (AB 857) and would also need to hold a hearing at some point for this bill to pass. 

There are currently 18 organizations registered in opposition to the bill.

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