A close look at Wisconsin’s annual fiscal report released last week reveals that state officials delayed a $27.5 million transfer, which made the budget balance larger than it otherwise would have been at the end of fiscal year 2013-14. However, that’s a cosmetic and deceptive improvement in the budget balance, since the payment will still be made during the current biennium. And because the Department of Administration (DOA) report buries mention of the delay in a footnote, that document presents a somewhat misleading picture of the difficulty of avoiding a budget shortfall in the current fiscal year.
According to the DOA’s fiscal report released on Oct. 15, the General Fund balance at the end of the last fiscal year was about $517 million, which was $207.5 million lower than what state lawmakers were anticipating when they passed a tax cut bill early this year. But when one accounts for a delayed transfer of $27.5 million from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund, the drop-off in the state’s fiscal health is $233 million. Read more
Governor Walker floated the idea this week of replacing the current gas tax with a sales tax on motor fuel. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it would be good public policy because it would replace a stable revenue stream with a tax source that is far less predictable. (You can read more about the idea in this Journal Sentinel article.)
Although we don’t have details of what the plan would look like, the Governor said it would be revenue neutral – at least at first. But clearly the intent is that the sales tax approach would generate more revenue over time, as gas prices increase, and I think that’s a reasonable assumption to make. However, fluctuations in gas prices mean that in any given year this source of revenue could fall well short of the anticipated level.
From a political perspective the chief virtue of the plan, perhaps the sole virtue, is that it offers a way of potentially raising more revenue for transportation projects without periodically asking elected lawmakers to vote on gas tax increases. Read more
TANF Funding Squeeze Creates a Substantial Budget Challenge
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) budget proposes a very large cut in the portion of funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit that comes from the federal welfare reform block grant, which is known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Specifically, the department’s 2015-17 budget proposes cutting $55.8 million from the TANF funding that gets transferred to the Department of Revenue, which would mean that state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) has to fill the very substantial gap.
Assuming the Walker Administration isn’t planning to cut the EITC, I applaud DCF for wanting to use state funds rather than TANF funds to finance that credit for low-income working families. Unfortunately, the Department of Revenue (DOR) budget proposal doesn’t currently include an increased GPR appropriation for the EITC. Taking both agency proposals together, we have a $55.8 million hole that needs to be filled by state policymakers, and that problem is on top of the other structural budget challenges that have gotten more media attention. Read more
Without intending to do so, the Department of Health Services (DHS) budget request has substantially strengthened the arguments for expanding BadgerCare and taking federal funding available for that purpose, which would erase much of the state’s currently projected Medicaid funding shortfall. There are many compelling reasons to accept the federal funding, and the DHS budget request unveiled last week adds to that list.
The following are four aspects of the budget request that bolster the arguments for expanding BadgerCare eligibility for adults up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Although the first point noted below is reason enough to take the federal funding, a closer reading of the DHS budget request reveals other reasons why the strong arguments for expanding BadgerCare are now even stronger.
1) The $760 million in additional state revenue needed simply for a cost-to-continue budget – The DHS budget request seeks an increase of $760 million in state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) simply to maintain current Medicaid and BadgerCare benefits. Read more
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
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
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
State tax revenues fell far short of projections for budget year 2014. The shortfall means that 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.
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.
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.
“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