Budget leaders have a $5 billion hole to fill. As one D.O.A. spokesperson put it, "It's crunch time."
"It's the largest gap in the state's history," said David Schmiedicke, state budget director. "It's going to require a lot of reductions in spending."
Governor Jim Doyle originally asked for a 10% cut in spending, but that may not be enough. Now, agencies may have to deal with hiring freezes, and less money for programs.
"Because of what's happened in the national economy, the global economy, we're really seeing this budget crisis come to pass in Wisconsin, and most other states," said Schmiedicke. "Wisconsin's not alone."
Transportation leaders say are worried spending cuts in roads and transit will exacerbate the problem.
"The number one reason that business across the country cite for site selections is access to highways," said Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association. "The better we can move goods in and out the more competitive we can be. It's going to increase our tax base so that we don't have to increase taxes on people in general."
Legislators said in times of financial crisis, critical needs like infrastructure are less likely to be on the chopping block.
"It employs people right now. It creates jobs right now," said Thompson. "But then for the long run, it makes us more competitive. That's what we've done in the past when we've gone through tough economic times."
A federal stimulus package remains a wild card in budget discussions. We won't know how much and what kind of help Washington will provide, until the new congress meets in January.
We expect to learn more about possible job cuts on Thursday, when the governor holds a new conference on the budget.