First is the revelation from One Wisconsin Now that shows this bill was only drafted last week, after Mary Burke entered the Governor's race. Heck, it still doesn't have an official bill number (just a drafting number), and it indicates to me that this bill was rushed in a lame attempt to grab headlines and get a talking point. Then again, "Ready! Fire! aim!" and picking politics over developing policies that work is kind of a Walker trademark, so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by such a silly move.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau still has yet to say what the effect of giving away $40 million this year and $60 million next year will have on this budget, and the next one. As it stands, this $100 million would put the state into a deficit by the end of 2015, which would be illegal under state rules, although it is possible that the Walker Administration is correct that the year-end surplus for 2013 will be higher than previously predicted, so they'd technically be able to get away with it. But if this is true, there's another conversation to have, because we need to back up and see if this is the proper way to take advantage of this one-time upside budget number.
I'm not the only one asking for legislators to take a step back and look at the big picture. The Wisconsin Budget Project points out that there are a lot of other directions that the Walker Administration and the Legislature could take, but aren't.
•What is the source of the increased revenue? Is it from a sustained upturn in revenue projections, or primarily from a one-time surplus?And as I mentioned earlier today, this measure won't do anything when it comes to helping schools meet the cost and space constraints in their system, because while there is an added $100 million in state spending being proposed, there is ZERO being added to the districts' revenue limits, which means they can't spend another dime in this year, and are extremely limited in doing so next year.
•Will this proposal increase the state’s structural deficit? If it will, would it make more sense to use the revenue for fiscally responsible purposes, such as reducing bonding or increasing the required minimum balance (which lawmakers have promised to do in the statutes, but every two years they postpone for two more years)?
•If the larger surplus results in part from reduced spending, do those spending projections take into account the probable $52 million reduction in the federal share of Medicaid spending?
The lack of increased revenue for schools is one of the many points brought up by State Senator (and hopefully future candidate for Governor) Kathleen Vinehout.
Schools are limited in what they can spend by state imposed revenue limits. Many frugal school boards don’t tax to the extent they are allowed. But as state money shrinks, board members are left with few options.And as Sen. Vinehout brings up, this added $100 million and the previously-approved small increase that was already in the budget for 2013-15 still doesn't come close to recovering the $800 million a year that was cut out of school aids in Gov. Walker's first budget. We are not better off econimically, our property taxes are still going up, and we've had an entirely unnecessary 3 years of teacher-bashing and anger as a result of Walker's and WisGOP's horrible education policies.
Local school boards are now preparing budgets for the next school year. Many members told me the “tools” the Governor gave the districts are not working. Costs are increasing faster than boards can make cuts. Especially hard hit are rural schools. Many districts have combined classrooms, cut electives, have multi-certified teachers, share staff with neighboring districts, share sports teams and long ago got rid of much support and administrative staff.
School boards now have no choice but to levy to the maximum allowed by law. Meaning possible big property tax increases for residents.
Enter the Governor’s new “property tax relief”.
So while I severely doubt this will happen, I'd encourage the State Legislature to take the time to discuss if a one-time, minimal property tax limitation is the proper way to handle this $100 million. I certainly don't see a need to have it be part of a special legislative session, especially since we're already in a regular Legislative session, and slamming this through and making school boards and DPI staff have go through a large amount of adjustments and extra work in the next 3 weeks seems to be unnecessary. Why not let things play out for the 2013-'14 school year, and if the budget battle and debt limit is decided in the next week or two, THEN come back and propose the ntire $100 million of relief for the next school year? Or use the surplus funds to make decisions on meeting other priorities.
But wait, that would entail responsible governing and not playing cheap, cynical games. And God knows Scott Walker would never choose good governance over talk-show type stunts designed to get a short-term bump from low-information voters. Which explains why we have this silly, symbolic move being brought up.
LATE EDIT: The Department of Administration released its year-end fiscal report, and it says the projected cash surplus ended up at $759 million, which is $89 million above the previous projection. That pretty much pays for the $100 million giveaway, but still leaves the $545 million structural deficit in the next budget....and possibly higher if revenues don't pick up like people project it to.