Agency Requests Underscore Wisconsin’s Budget Challenges

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 2:48 PM by

Most state agencies have submitted their budget requests for Wisconsin’s upcoming 2015-17 budget. These requests are worth taking a look at because they can give some insight into Governor Walker’s priorities for the next budget. The requests can be found here, on the Department of Administration’s website

Back in July, Governor Walker told state agencies that their 2015-17 budget requests should assume that there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations. (He did carve out a few exceptions to that rule.) But nearly all the major agencies that have submitted budget proposals so far have requested at least modest increases in funding.  The growing tab for these requests helps illustrate the significant challenge of balancing a budget at a time when the state is expected to need almost $1.8 billion of revenue growth just to provide flat funding.

One agency, the Department of Health Services, has indicated that it will require a big boost in General Fund spending to pay for health care for people with low incomes: $760 million over two years. Read more

New LFB Figures Are a Sobering Reminder of the Need for More Prudent Budgets

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 6:05 PM by

Structural Deficit Calculation Jumps to Nearly $1.8 Billion

It’s remarkable how quickly the state’s fiscal picture can turn around, even during a period when the national economy is on the mend.  During the campaign season two years ago, GOP incumbents were making a big deal of the fact that they had eliminated the state’s structural deficit.  Today we learned from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) that the structural deficit has returned with a vengeance; the new figure of $1.766 billion is the third largest structural deficit estimated by the LFB since 1997 (for the 10 biennial budgets from 1997-99 through 2015-17).  

Although that turnaround in the state fiscal picture is surprising to many people, it shouldn’t be.  Wisconsin lawmakers have a long history of banking on surpluses that are estimated during the first half of a biennium (especially in election years) and promising tax cuts and/or spending levels that aren’t sustainable and that lead to big deficits.  Read more

Reports of Budget Hole May Understate Size of Problem

Friday, September 5, 2014 at 7:32 AM by

Budget Repair Bill May be Needed to Bring Budget Back into Balance

It’s been widely reported that state tax revenues fell well short of projections for the budget year that ended in June. But the nature of Wisconsin’s two-year budget means that the budget hole is likely to be bigger than many commentators realize, if current trends continue.

We already know that tax revenues fell $281 million short of projections for budget year 2013-14. That’s not good, but the end-of-year fund balance is enough to cover the shortfall, so it the shortfall doesn’t present any immediate problems.

The shortfall is likely to lead to bigger difficulties in 2014-15, the second year of the budget. Tax revenues for 2014-15 were projected to grow by 3.5% over 2013-14 amounts. But with 2013-14 revenues coming in so much lower than expected, 2014-15 revenues will be growing from a lower base. If 2014-15 revenues grow the originally projected 3.5% from the new, lower base, then at the end of the next budget year, Wisconsin would have a second shortfall of about $291 million. Read more

Budget Shortfall Shows Downside of Risky Approach to Tax Cuts

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 at 12:50 PM by

Last week we learned that state tax revenues fell far short of projections for the budget year that just ended. The shortfall means that next year the state is likely to face another round of budget cuts — cuts that slow economic growth and reduce investment in education, health care, and our state’s workforce.

The irony is that not too long ago, state lawmakers were trumpeting Wisconsin’s budget surplus, which neared $1 billion over two years. But instead of using those resources to build up a meaningful budget cushion, state lawmakers rushed to pass tax cuts. Legislators were in such a hurry to cut taxes that they passed a $100 million property tax cut last October in just four days, leaving little time for public debate. Lawmakers also passed two other major tax cut packages in 2013 and 2014.

The three big tax cut packages hurt the state’s bottom line, but they didn’t do much to lower taxes for Wisconsin’s lowest-wage workers. Read more

Categories: Blog, STATE BUDGET, STATE TAXES | Comments Off

State Tax Collections Fall Far Short of Projections

Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 3:21 PM by

State revenue collections fell $281 million (2.0%) short of projections during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. Rather than growing by 1% as anticipated, state tax collections fell by 1%, and that will cause a substantial jump in the state’s structural deficit.

Revenue Watch: Anxiously Awaiting the 2013-14 Tax Numbers

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 5:46 PM by

For the past month or so I’ve been scratching my head wondering when we would get an update from the WI Department of Revenue on state tax collections during the fiscal year that ended on June 30th.  I’m not the only one who has been anxiously awaiting those numbers; four Democrats in the state Senate sent a letter yesterday to Secretary Huebsch asking when the FY 2013-14 revenue numbers will be released. 

The letter signed by Senators Larson, Hansen, Shilling and Wirch notes that “last year the June numbers were released on August 23rd.”  (You can see that DOR press release here.)  The letter adds:

“Given the numbers we’ve seen to date, the delay is already fueling concern that they will show a revenue shortfall.  How significant that shortfall is could have a wide ranging impact not only on future budgets but the current budget as well.” 

I share the concern about the potential for a revenue shortfall.  Read more

New Report: How Wisconsin Lawmakers Have Broken with Tradition and Undermined a Legacy of Investment

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 11:26 AM by

Four years ago Wisconsin was made a promise. The promise was that the best way to generate economic growth was through significant tax and spending cuts. The tax and spending cuts have occurred, but unfortunately for all of us, the promised job growth has not.

That’s the conclusion of a new Budget Project report released today, called “Breaking with Tradition: How Wisconsin Lawmakers Have Shortchanged a Legacy of Investment in the State’s Future.” The new report reviews the many changes policymakers have made recently in how Wisconsin supports it schools, communities, and workforce.

Lawmakers have made dramatic tax cuts since 2011, totaling $1.9 billion over four years. But the value of the tax cuts was not equitably distributed. Half the value of the major tax cuts packages in 2013 and 2014 went to the top 20% of taxpayers by income, and the remaining 80% shared the other half.

The tax cuts have contributed to deep cuts to public schools and higher education in Wisconsin. Read more

Categories: Blog, jobs, JOBS & THE ECONOMY, STATE BUDGET, STATE TAXES, taxes | Comments Off

Governor’s Guidance Gives Hints of What’s to come in Next Budget

Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 10:09 AM by

Governor Walker has given state agencies guidance on how to develop their proposals for Wisconsin’s next budget, giving some glimpses into what the state’s 2015-17 budget might bring. 

Wisconsin has a two-year budget. The budget process starts in the summer of even numbered years – like now — when the Governor instructs agencies in how to develop budget requests. Agencies submit their requests to the executive branch by September 15, and the Governor takes the requests into consideration when developing his own budget proposal to submit to the Legislature. The Governor is expected to release his budget proposal in the early part of 2015. For more about the Wisconsin state budget cycle, check the Wisconsin Budget Project’s Budget Toolkit.

For the upcoming budget, Governor Walker recently instructed agencies to assume there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations in each fiscal year. In other words, he wants agencies to submit budget requests that are not any higher their budgets were two years ago, even though inflation and other factors have pushed costs up.  Read more

Should Counties Put a BadgerCare Expansion Question on the Fall Ballot?

Friday, July 11, 2014 at 11:59 AM by

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.
  • Read more

New Bill in Congress Would Make Wisconsin’s Budget Harder to Balance

Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 2:48 PM by

A bill under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives could limit Wisconsin’s flexibility in applying sales tax and make it more difficult to invest in schools and communities, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows.

A committee in the House recently approved a bill that would prohibit all state and local taxation of Internet access. Currently, there is a moratorium on new taxes on Internet access fees, but seven states with pre-existing internet access taxes – including Wisconsin – were grandfathered in. This new proposal would eliminate the exception for Wisconsin and other states, and permanently ban all taxes on Internet access.

For Wisconsin, this restriction would reduce the resources the state uses to invest in public education, a healthy workforce, and a solid transportation network. Wisconsin would lose $127 million in tax revenue in 2015 if prohibited from taxing Internet access – resources that could be used to make Wisconsin a more attractive place to live and do business. Read more