Thursday, July 10, 2014

Underfunding veterans means budget deficit grows higher

Yet another budgetary shortfall in Wisconsin has reared its head in the last 2 weeks. This time, it’s the Veterans Trust Fund, which helps to fund certain services and programs out of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). The Trust Fund now gives an annual report to the Joint Finance Committee, and State Senator and Committee member Jennifer Shilling noted that there isn’t enough money for the Trust Fund to operate in coming years.
The DVA report to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee identifies declining revenue projections and increasing program expenditures as the reason for the Veterans Trust Fund budget deficit. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates this deficit will total $46.1 million by 2019 unless corrective actions are taken.

“Our veterans and their families have made tremendous sacrifices and they deserve to be treated fairly,” said Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). “This new budget deficit reveals a troubling trend that threatens the long-term solvency of the Veterans Trust Fund as well as important job creation and health care programs in our state. Whether recently returning from deployment overseas or entering the golden years of retirement, all our veterans deserve the same opportunities for success and they should not be penalized as a result of the Republican budget deficit.”
As that report shows, the Veterans Trust Fund had $20.8 million carried over from fiscal year 2012, and is now projected to dwindle to just over $2.5 million at the end of this current budget. And the only reason this fund is able to stay afloat through this budget is $5.3 million in General tax money thrown into it for 2013-14, and expenses being cut by $4.2 million compared to budget in the just-completed fiscal year. (It sure makes you wonder where those cuts came from).

What’s interesting about the moves in the last budget is that it’s a pared-down version of what Governor Walker wanted to do. Scotty wanted to shore up the Veterans’ Trust Fund by moving all surplus revenue from the state’s veterans homes into the Trust Fund, meaning the money wouldn’t be spent on services, but instead would fill up the holes. Even the GOP-dominated Joint Finance Committee said to no to that one, and we ended up with the $5.3 million, one-time transfer we had in 2013-14. (Pages 2-4 at this link explain how this all played out).

There’s also a $20.6 million hole for the Trust Fund in the next budget, with no new revenue source designated as of this time, so that’ll require some additional General Fund tax dollars, or some kind of transfer. A long-term solution is in order over just a one-year fix, as the report to the LFB shows an overall $62 million deficit between 2013-19.

So let’s add this to the list of problems we already know of for the next state budget.

1. A $642 million structural deficit due to Koo-Koo tax cuts, property tax “relief” gimmicks and spending more than we have coming in for fiscal 2014-15.

2. A $93 million Medicaid hole due to Walker’s dumb decision to TeaBag the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare.

3. $400 million over two years as a result of the $200 million revenue shortfall in FY 2013-14. And that's a number that could be even worse, as the September 1 General Fund cash balance is now forecast to be $466 million less than it was projected to be only 2 months ago.

4. And now we have $20.6 million that has to be made up for the Veterans Trust Fund

5. That makes for total deficits of… $1.155 billion.

And oh yeah, we also have $1.1 billion or so to make up in the Transportation Fund, if you want to pay for all designated needs in 2015-17. It’s quite obvious that all these giveaways by Gov Walker and WisGOP lack any semblance of fiscal responsibility, and it’s leading to a path that results in lowered services, even more deferred and unmet needs, and higher taxes in 2015.

It’s almost like these WisGOPs want it that way. Another fiscal crisis could allow Scotty to sell off the state to his campaign contributors if he’s lucky enough to survive the November election (we’ve seen a list of what some of those items would be). On the flip side, it would also tie Gov Burke’s hands when she takes over in January, and not let her reverse the huge amount of damage that has already been done by this wrecking crew. Sounds like a win-win for the ALEC bunch.

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