Under current law, no later than September 15 of each even-numbered year, each executive state agency must file with the Department of Administration the agency's budget request for the succeeding biennium. This bill requires each agency to include with its biennial budget request, and to submit to the governor and the legislature, all of the following:On the surface, no big deal, right? It’s just an alternate scenario to go along with what would happen if each agency received the same amount of money, and that type of thing should happen with every budget request, right?
1. A proposal to reduce the agency's budget for the succeeding fiscal biennium by a total of 5 percent of the agency's budget for the current fiscal biennium.
2. A proposal to maintain the agency's current budget levels for the succeeding fiscal biennium.
Well, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (the people behind the excellent Wisconsin Budget Project website) saw right through this charade, and said there’s a third budget scenario that should be included into this bill.
From the perspective of improving public debate about budget options, the proposal fails to address the biggest gap. It should be amended to require agencies to calculate and disclose the cost of maintaining existing services.In other words, there is no provision for a “cost to continue”, which usually includes costs going up due to inflation, or due to mandated changes in services that hit in future years. That would also seem to be an important bit of data to know when organizing a budget, but this bill doesn’t include that as part of the work agency budget personnel need to do.
Another tipoff that this bill is really about something else is that all of the bill’s sponsors are the worst of the ALEC Kool-aid drinkers in the Wisconsin GOP’s Capitol contingent (including National ALEC Treasurer Leah Vukmir). You can bet that “5% cut” scenario will not be a realistic one that shows the real damage that would hit services, or the ripple effects one cut might have on another department whose work complements the services being cut. At which point, the ALEC crew will shrug and say “See, things aren’t so bad for the future.”
There’s also a more cynical idea behind the “5% cut” bill. It seems very likely that there will be a structural budget deficit in the 2017-19 budget under current spending and revenue figures (it was projected at $210 million last July), especially if revenue projections are revised down later this month (very possible, given the lower tax collections so far, and the struggles in the overall U.S. economy). But if there’s a 5% cut included with the bill, then that number can be used as the new “base” figure, regardless of the horrible outcomes that would result if such a cut were to ever happen.
Remember, there are nearly $1.5 BILLION in lapses already assumed in the 2017-19 budget, just to get that structural deficit down to $210 million, but you can bet WisGOP candidates won’t mention that, nor will they mention the 5% additional cut that would be projected by budget staff. Instead, they might pull a lie similar to the one that JFC Co-Chairs John Nygren and Alberta Darling pulled before the 2014 elections, and claim a “balanced budget” based on that absurd scenario. And there might be enough rubes in their gerrymandered districts to buy it.
So despite it seeming like a minor blip of a bill, this “5% budget cut” bill that’s trying to be snuck through the WisGOP Legislature is really a nasty, sick move. But par for the course with this crew, who’d much rather make up legislation for talking points than actually care about governing the state with an ounce of responsibility.