Reduced Participation Provides Opportunity and Reason to Streamline Enrollment Procedures
Members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee got some very good news last Friday in the form of a quarterly report on the state Medicaid budget from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). The letter from the interim Secretary of DHS indicates that the agency now estimates that Medicaid spending during the 2015-17 biennium will be $418.6 million below the amount lawmakers anticipated when they passed the budget bill a year ago.
The portion of Medicaid spending specifically from state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) is projected to be almost $176 million (3.1%) less than the budget bill set aside. That’s an improvement of $90.6 million GPR since the last projection was made three months ago.
These numbers from DHS are very good news at a time when state revenue projections haven’t been very good. The reduced growth in Medicaid spending improves the prospects for keeping the total state budget in the black – without resorting to additional remedial measures (beyond the delay in debt payments that the Governor already implemented). Read more
Wisconsin got a very positive jobs report last week, but the apparent good news from the preliminary May data did not carry over to last month’s tax collections. As a result, the state may finish the current fiscal year well below the revenue target included in the budget bill – creating a more precarious situation in the second half of the 2015-17 biennial budget.
The Department of Revenue released the May tax collections figures at about 4:00 on Friday, June 17. As is often the case when those numbers are released late on a Friday, the news wasn’t good. The new DOR figures show the following:
- Tax collections fell by $17.5 million (1.5%) in May, relative to the amount in May 2015.
- Although sales tax collections increased by $25 million compared to the same month of 2015, individual income tax revenue dropped by 6.3% ($31.5 million) last month, and corporate income tax revenue was off by $8.5 million (almost 35%).
Wisconsin Is Third Lowest Nationally in Total Spending for Public Health
Concerns about the threats posed by the Zika virus have generated debate in Congress about funding for public health and have drawn attention to the importance of public health systems. That makes this a very appropriate time to also look at the funding for our state and local public health departments.
In Wisconsin, as in other states, we expect a lot from the public health system. However, we generally take that system for granted, and Wisconsin has one of the most poorly funded public health systems in the nation.
A recent report by the Trust for America’s Health (Investing in America’s health: a state-by-state look at public health funding and key health facts) compares the total spending level for public health in each state in 2015, and it also ranks states by the public health funding from a variety of sources. Read more
Tech. College Funding Shift Masks 25 Percent Cut in Higher Ed Support Since 2008
Wisconsin cut state support for higher education by 8.3 percent this year, or $603 per student. As the following graph illustrates, only Arizona cut state funding for higher education by a larger percentage.
In contrast to Wisconsin, most states have been taking advantage of the national economic recovery to increase support for higher education and restore some of the funding cut during the recession. The bar graph from a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shows that Wisconsin was one of just 11 states that cut its support for higher education in the current fiscal year, relative to fiscal year 2015, and almost all of the other cuts were far smaller. Read more
Governor Walker has delayed a payment on the state’s debt, pushing costs off into the future and increasing the amount of interest the state will have to pay. Postponing debt payments can be a helpful tool to manage budget shortfalls, but Governor Walker hasn’t released information indicating why the delay was necessary.
Instead of making a $101 debt payment that was due in May, the state skipped the payment and restructured the debt to be repaid over the next eight years. (State law allows the governor to restructure certain types of debt without getting the approval of legislators.) This move reduces spending in this fiscal year, but raises future costs in two ways:
- By increasing the amount of principal that must be repaid in future years. Spreading out the $101 million cost over the next eight years will raise payments on the debt principal by $12.6 million for each year between 2017 and 2024.
Regularly putting money into the state’s Rainy Day Fund during periods of sustained economic growth helps build up a budget cushion on which the state can rely to cushion the impact of recessions and avoid harmful budget cuts. But before 2011, Wisconsin’s Rainy Day Fund sat mostly empty.
In 2011, 2012, and 2013, the state deposited money into the Rainy Day Fund when tax revenues came in higher than anticipated, building the balance to $280 million. But lawmakers made no deposits to the fund in 2014, 2015, or in 2016 so far. They pushed aside a requirement that part of higher-than-anticipated tax revenues be deposited in the Rainy Day Fund, and instead passed new tax cuts and allowed existing tax cuts to grow. Some of those tax breaks benefitted large corporations and taxpayers with high incomes.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how big a state’s Rainy Day Fund should be, but the Government Finance Officers Association recommends that states have at a minimum of 5% to 15% of annual general revenues set aside. Read more
The latest quarterly report from the Department of Health Services (DHS) projects that state spending for Medicaid and related services during the current biennium will be $85.2 million less than the state budgeted. That amounts to $12.6 million less state spending than the state estimated in its last update, three months ago. (I’m focusing just on the state share of spending; the total reduction from all sources is almost $203 million, relative to the amount budgeted for 2015-17.)
Granted, Medicaid spending trends can change rapidly, but the DHS report is welcome news – particularly since other budget indicators aren’t so good. Recently reduced estimates of national economic growth in 2016 suggest the possibility of less state revenue growth than anticipated, and as we noted in a recent blog post, state tax collections dropped by $91 million in February. Against that backdrop, the latest DHS report provides a bit of positive news relating to the prospects for keeping the state budget in the black. Read more
$91 Million Decline in Tax Collections Underscores Need for Increased Transparency
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) recently released the tax collection figures for the month of February, and the new numbers show a drop of $91 million for the month, compared to February 2015. That was a drop of 14% in General Fund tax revenue, even though February was one day longer this year.
For first 8 months of the current fiscal year, revenue is up 3.8% compared to the 2014-15 fiscal year. That’s a bit worrisome because the last revenue estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) projected tax growth of about 4.4% for the fiscal year that ends on June 30 (and that estimate had been revised down from the 4.6% increase anticipated when the budget bill was passed).
Unfortunately, the Wisconsin DOR – in contrast to its counterpart in Minnesota – almost never releases month-by-month tax collection projections in conjunction with the actual tax collection figures. Read more
During their recent session, Wisconsin lawmakers had a mixed record on holding down corrections costs, passing bills that will increase the number of people behind bars, as well as reducing obstacles that prevent people from fully contributing to their communities after leaving prison or jail.
The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families has released a new summary that describes the changes lawmakers made to Wisconsin’s criminal justice system during the legislative session that ended earlier this month, and also includes descriptions of high-profile proposals that did not pass.
The high cost of Wisconsin’s corrections system means that the time is ripe for lawmakers to make changes in policies that govern who is incarcerated, for how long, and what happens to people after they get out from behind bars. Wisconsin state and local governments spent $1.5 billion on corrections in 2013. That’s over than a tenth more — 12% — on corrections per state resident than the national average. Read more
On a party-line vote Tuesday, the Wisconsin Senate Passed a bill that will tilt the state budget process in favor of spending cuts or freezes. It does that by striving to frame budget deliberations as a choice between frozen spending and spending cuts, while shifting attention away from the question of what is needed to maintain the current level of services.
If the Assembly concurs with the Senate later this week, the proposal, SB 407 , will require state agencies to submit two additional things with their biennial budget requests: a) a proposal that would maintain the existing level of funding, and b) a proposal to cut the agency’s budget by 5%.
As I wrote in a previous blog post, I don’t necessarily have a problem with giving legislators access to information from agencies on how they would handle a budget freeze or a budget cut; shining more light on budget options is a good thing. Read more