Evers makes budget, transportation appointments in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers named a veteran state fiscal hand as budget director and a former aide to Milwaukee’s mayor to lead the Department of Administration.

Evers, a Democrat who unseated incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in November, named Joel Brennan as his secretary of the Department of Administration, an appointment that requires Senate confirmation. The budget and capital finance offices fall under the department.

Brian Pahnke will take over as budget director, an appointment that does not require legislative review.

State debt management is handled by the capital finance director, who reports to the budget director and administration secretary. That civil service position is held by David Erdman, who joined the office in 1994 and was elevated to the top post in 2015.

"The state budget has many challenges, but it is also a great opportunity to work in a collaborative manner to advance a budget that reflects the values Wisconsin citizens shared with us during the budget listening sessions around the state," Pahnke said in a statement.

Pahnke is 28-year veteran of various state fiscal positions. He is currently the assistant state superintendent for finance and management at the Department of Public Instruction. He reported to Evers, who was superintendent of state schools. He served five years in the state budget office during the administration of Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican.

Brennan has served as chief executive officer of the Milwaukee museum Discovery World Science and Technology Center since 2007. He previously served as executive director of the Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority for three years and previously was a vice president at the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau. He is a former campaign manager for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat.

Evers has also picked transportation lobbyist Craig Thompson to head up the Department of Transportation, a key post as the state considers how to raise funding levels for roads and bridges.

Thompson has led the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association which advocates for increased transportation funding on behalf of labor, business, and local governments since 2007. He previously worked for the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Republican senators, who will have the final say, have voiced concerns over Thompson’s role as a lobbyist. Republicans control the Senate and Assembly. The WTDA has cited studies that show just about 32% of state highways were found to be in good condition compared to an average of over 68% in other Midwestern states.

During the campaign, Evers said he supported efforts to raise funding through a gasoline tax hike, a move Walker long opposed unless some other tax was lowered to offset the impact.

When Evers is sworn in Monday, he will inherit a balance sheet that has benefited from improved structural balance that resulted in bond rating upgrades and a fully funded pension system.

Any effort to reverse the Walker administration's cuts to local governments and curbs in collective bargaining rights, or to increase spending or taxes for education or transportation, is likely to face a tough road with the Republican legislative majorities. Evers also takes office after opposing eleventh-hour measures approved by the legislature and signed by Walker that strip the governor of some administrative powers.

The state last month released fiscal 2018 results that showed the fiscal year ended with an undersigned general fund balance of $588.5 million, up slightly from the $579 million in fiscal 2017 and $41.2 million more than projected. About $33 million was deposited into the state’s budget stabilization fund bringing it to $320 million, a weak level as a percentage of state spending but a record level for the state.

Wisconsin still runs a deficit under generally accepted accounting principles although several billion has been shaved off the GAAP gap that stands at about $1 billion.

Ahead of fall general obligation and appropriation bond sales, Fitch Ratings affirmed its AA-plus rating and stable outlook on Wisconsin GOs. Kroll Bond Rating Agency affirmed its AA-plus rating and stable outlook, Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its Aa1 rating and stable outlook, and S&P Global Ratings affirmed its AA rating and stable outlook.

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State budgets State tax revenues Tony Evers State of Wisconsin Wisconsin