Today’s Circuit Court Ruling Reinforces the Inconsistencies in State Lawmakers’ Reasoning
Should state lawmakers turn down federal funds whenever there’s a risk that the funding in question could be cut in future years? If so, why is Wisconsin proceeding with major highway and bridge construction plans at a time when Congress is using short-term gimmicks to keep the Highway Trust Fund from becoming insolvent? And why did Wisconsin cut BadgerCare eligibility in half for parents, based on reliance on federal funding to subsidize the federal health insurance Marketplace?
That last question has gotten little attention over the past year, but it will be raised more often following a ruling today by a subset of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Two of the three judges participating in that ruling concluded that federal subsidies for the health insurance Marketplace can only go to people in states that set up their own Marketplaces. Read more
At least 13 Wisconsin counties may include an advisory referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether Wisconsin should expand BadgerCare and take the federal funding that would cover the full cost of newly eligible childless adults. The proposed ballot measure, which has already been approved in 4 counties and enjoys broad support, has generated debate about whether the Medicaid expansion topic is an appropriate matter for an advisory referendum.
There are many strong arguments in favor of taking the federal funding (see WCCF’s “Top Ten” list); however, some people who argue against including the BadgerCare question on the November ballot contend that it’s not a concern of county government. But even if we assume for the moment that an interest in county residents’ access to affordable health care isn’t reason enough for counties to allow voters to weigh in on the issue, counties also have their own reasons to be very interested in whether the state expands BadgerCare and accepts the federal funds:
- One very important consideration for counties is they bear the financial responsibility (rather than the state) for some community-based Medicaid services.
Revenue Collections Continue to Fall, While Medicaid Deficit Takes Large Jump
The state’s fiscal situation has gradually deteriorated in 2014, and new tax collection figures released late Friday afternoon show a continuation of that trend. That fiscal problem is exacerbated by a couple of areas where spending is growing, including a substantial increase announced today in the estimated Medicaid deficit.
Starting on the revenue side of the state’s budget ledger, here are some of the key figures gleaned from the Department of Revenue’s press release:
- General Fund tax collections fell $26 million in May, compared to May 2013, which is a drop of 2.5% (measured on an adjusted basis).
- Over the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, state tax revenue is down by almost $49 million or 0.4%.
- Although sales tax revenue is up by $186 million or 5.2% over the last 11 months, individual income tax collections are down by almost $290 million – a drop of 4.6%.
National data released last week show that there has been a sharp increase in Medicaid enrollment since last September, and that trend continued in April. One surprising aspect of the latest HHS data is that the growth in Wisconsin trails that in most other states, even among the states that haven’t expanded Medicaid eligibility.
Nationally, 6 million more people were enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in April, compared to the 3-month period before open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act began last October. That includes growth of 1.1 million additional people in April, as compared to March (in the 48 states that reported data for both months).
The following graph illustrates that the increases have been much higher in the 25 states that have accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility for adults to 133% of the federal poverty level. The average increase of 10.3% for all 50 states compares with a jump of 15.3% in the expansion states in April (relative to the average enrollment in those states from July through Sept. Read more
New Federal Money Provides Chance to Close Large Hole in W-2 and Improve Child Care
Wisconsin got some good news from Washington over the last couple of months, in the form of supplemental federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and additional child care and development funds (CCDF). The plans for using part of that additional funding – $19.8 million from TANF and $3.8 million from CCDF – will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on May 6th. (The LFB paper can be found here.)
I’ve written numerous times over the past year or so about the fact that the biennial budget bill made very unrealistic assumptions about declining participation in the state’s welfare to work program, known as Wisconsin Works or W-2. The budget bill cut the W-2 appropriation and siphoned off TANF block grant funding by using it to supplant state funds for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read more
The U.S. Census Bureau is making a long-overdue improvement in the questions they ask about health insurance in their annual Current Population Survey (CPS). Contrary to some recent news reports and commentary, the change in the survey is not going to be a significant impediment to understanding the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the percentage of Americans who are insured.
Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think that the $93 million Medicaid shortfall will prompt current lawmakers to reconsider their decision to reject the enhanced federal funding. But is it too much to expect that they will at least provide some insights on the plans to close that budget hole before they enact a special session bill that uses every dollar of the projected $912 million surplus?
Tax Plan Increases Red Ink in Next Budget and Leaves Holes in This One
Governor Walker conceded to reporters that his new tax cut proposals will increase the red ink in the 2015-17 state budget by about $100 million – meaning that lawmakers will have to grapple with a structural deficit of more than $800 million as the state goes into the next budget cycle.
According to initial statements to the press corps, his proposal includes a $406 million reduction to property taxes, a $98 million cut in personal income taxes, and the use of nearly $323 million to adjust income withholding schedules (which costs the state up front, but reduces the subsequent refunds the state owes to income tax filers). Another $100 million or so will be put into the state’s rainy day fund.
The deeper structural deficit is likely to be the most contentious aspect of Walker’s plan among Senate Republicans, but it is just one of many reasons why I think his proposal is extremely disappointing. Read more
A big jump in state revenue that will be announced soon gives lawmakers an excellent opportunity to invest in Wisconsin’s economic future and to put the state on a sounder fiscal footing by filling budget holes.