Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The budget comes out- first thoughts

Here are some early notes that I have on a few provisions included in the state budget that Gov Walker released last night (you can read the monster document by clicking here).

1. We knew about the $1.3 billion that was being borrowed for transportation needs, but weren’t certain what funds would have to pay back the money, and how it would shake down. Now we do- slightly more than $279 million from the General Fund, and a little over $1 billion from the Transportation Fund. Pages 191 and 192 have that explanation.

2. On a related note, the proposed transfers to the Transportation Fund from the General Fund have been slashed back to less than $38 million in Fiscal Year 2015-16, and $39.6 million in Fiscal Year 2016-17 (noted on Page 188). This is much less than the $169 million we're sending to the Transportation Fund this year, and it helps to explain some of the need behind the added borrowing. Limiting the transfer also seem to be out of desperation, as it's the only way Walker's General Fund budget would have a chance of balancing, even with the expectation of revenue growth. Also worth mentioning on that page is the fact that more than $681 million in lapses is expected in year 2 of the budget – approximately 4% of appropriations.

3. Going back to debt- there’s a whole lot more refinancing in this budget, as Walker plans to “reschedule” up to $1.5 billion in debt over the next two years. The idea is to take advantage of low interest rates driven by the reduction in the federal deficit and strength of the U.S. dollar (THANKS OBAMA! THANKS FED!), but of course the problem with this is that we have to pay off more of it further down the road. Of course, Walker isn’t planning to be in office when that bill comes due (heck, he’s not planning to be in the STATE at that time), but it means that those of us left behind have even more pieces to pick up from.

4. Walker is helped by the lower interest rates in another way, as GPR (general tax) debt service costs are way down- from $723.3 million estimated for this current Fiscal Year, to $631.4 million in 2015-16 to less than $582.2 million in 2016-17. Walker will likely take credit for this admittedly impressive drop in debt service, but he will likely not tell people in other states that a lot of the savings stem from the fiscal policy of President Obama and the easy money from the Fed. Oh, and I’m very certain that Walker won’t bring up his strategy of kicking the can down the road via billions in refinancing.

5. I am skeptical of Wisconsinites actually seeing further property tax reductions. Walker’s claim of lower property taxes is due to higher credits for schools (which aren’t being paid for) and the lottery (because more people are playing). But that claim of taxes being lower is in comparison to what they would otherwise be, and going back to the Kaukauna lie of 2011, that often doesn’t mean that you’ll end up paying less, or that things won’t be worse off due to Walker policies.

There’s obviously a whole lot more in this 1,800+ page document to discuss in the coming weeks and months, but I wanted to focus on these items, even though they aren’t as sexy as UW funding cuts (and literally purging the Wisconsin Idea from the UW System’s mission), or the destruction of K-12 public schools through privatization and a “separate but equal” system intended to favor voucher schools. These key provisions make the fragile numbers in the budget add up, and as revenues get finalized over the near future and reality sets in, let’s compare to where Walker’s poses match up to situation on the ground and in the state’s Treasury.

EDIT: Oh hey look, we already have a modification to the budget!

Yes, this is definitely the type of detail-oriented person we should trust with his finger on the Button. I will now hammer my head on the table for the next 5 minutes.


  1. The General Fund transfers to the Transportation Fund are just the current law 0.25%; the other $133,293,200 is a oneoff transfer that is not being renewed.

    The Transportation Fund's borrowing requirement of $1.3 billion is basically the $505 million that they asked for but isn't coming out of the General Fund, plus the $751 million of new taxes and fees that they asked for but aren't getting.

    Now I wonder if you noticed that while the 2013-15 Budget is $68,332,014,700 big including all funding sources, the 2015-17 Budget is smaller, only $68,285,000,000 (III B on page 28). This is achieved by moving the UW non-GPR funding off the state books in FY17 to shrink it by about $5 billion, since that money wouldn't be going via state coffers any more.

    In 2017-19, there'll be a similar reduction for the same reason, provided the UW System gets turned into a Public Authority as Walker wants.

    So a big thing about spinning off UW is presumably to create a talking point for Walker that he reduced the state budget in absolute terms - and it takes 35,060 FTE's off the state employment count too.

    Did you notice the footnote for table 4 on page 33 of the Budget in Brief? That's all that the $233 million deficit for the current fiscal year has warranted, even though the Budget Repair Bill trigger is at just $79 million.

  2. That's a good breakdown of it Geoff, and I also noted the "reduction" in expenses is mostly due to the UW System reductions, which masks the increases in other places (especially DOR).

    The FY15 projects are interesting, because it implies that $98 million from the Compensation Reserve won't be paid. Seems to be odd, since there was a 1% increase for Classified employees that's been in place since July 1, so most of that will likely be paid, unless Obamacare is saving them even more than they're letting on. :P It also assumes another $130 million in lapses, and I'd like to identify where they think that's coming from.

    They're also counting on those stronger revenues (and lower tax refunds) in between now and June 30. We'll see about that.