Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rev'd up over state budget news

Wanted to give an update of a couple of recent budget-related developments. The first involves the continued above-prediction revenue figures for the state of Wisconsin. The February figures from DOR show that tax collections are up 6.1% compared to this time last year. This is 1.5% higher than what was expected in the January LFB memos, and if you prorate this out to the end of the fiscal year in June, would result in revenues $180 million above estimates.

This development ALONE would close any of the alleged "deficit" that the Walker Adminsitration claims to exist, and also increase the base for the next budget, reducing the "structural deficit" that is alleged to be $3 billion +. Now, there's still a couple of months of volatility to go due to tax returns and refunds coming in (tax refunds is why you have income tax collections be so small for February), so it's not a done deal, but keep your eye on this. Walker budget math is looking fishier every day.

Another example of fuzzy decision-making is the Walker Admin's decision to to freeze Badgercare enrollment and raise premiums for current users that don't have kids. The excuse they give is a $1.6 million deficit that exists due to higher-than expected enrollment and costs for this part of the program. It's especially rich to see a suggestion in the article to have those left out by the Badgercare restrictions consider using Obamacare's High-Risk Insurance Pool to get coverage instead. (Hmm, that almost sounds like a public option, doesn't it?) Well, you think some of the better-than-expected revenues could go towards these millions that the program is allegedly in the hole? Given that Wisconsin has poverty, unemployment and uninsured rates well below the national averages, you have to wonder if Scotty and company just want us to be more like everyone else in misery, instead of putting the state on a strong road to continue its recovery.

Or did he just want to pay back his buddies in the road builders' clubs? As former DOT administrator Rod Clark accurately pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Walker paid back the road builders who paid him off in the last election by boosting spending on interstate projects. And the way this is being done is by diverting some sales tax money on car and part sales that could go to places such as Badgercare or transit, and by taking transit out of the Transportation Fund, so state transit funding would have to battle health care, education, and other needs for funding.

And it's not just any interstate projects this money will go to, but the Zoo Interchange work, which just so happens to transport the pro-Walker voters in Washington and Waukesha Counties around town. You gotta be impressed by how far Scotty and co. go to take care of their supporters, don't you? Of course, if you're part of the other 75% of Wisconsin, you're kind of out of luck, but I guess that's just collateral damage, isn't it?

This is just the beginning of a number of items that are still to be reolved and investigated, but the combination of above-average revenues and diversions of funds toward road-building and sprawl show just how false this administration's argument of "Wisconsin's broke" is. The only way we'll be broke is if we rob the state of its advantages in education and health care coverage, and that'll be the worst kind of broke, because it isn't just fiscal, it's moral. You know, much like the Southern plantation states that Walker wants us to be like.

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