Since the State Legislature adjourned on its 9 1/2 month paid vacation 2 weeks ago, I've been looking for updates on the state's fiscal condition. However, it's very hard to find those updates these days.
1. If I want to look at what the state's expense situation looks like, I used to be able to click onto the state's appropriations reports. This was an alleged "open government" effort that Gov Walker and others had signed onto several years back, but if you click on it today, the spending report only goes through September 2015, and there hasn't been an update for 6 months.
2. There also hasn't been a regular update on the state's Monthly Statement of Receipts and Disbursements since September. This report basically tracks the cash side of the state's balance sheet. It's not a direct comparison to the state's General Fund, but one usually gives at least an indication of how the other is doing.
The only place I could find something resembling a cash balance update came via the release of the Wisconsin DOA's General Fund Cash forecast earlier this month. And that took a bit of piecing together. The cash forecast looked ahead at the numbers from April through the end of June, and I compared it to a similar forecast released at the start of February.
General Fund Cash forecast, April 2016
Feb. 2016 $1,320.8 million
March 2016 $1,174.1 million
DIFFERENCE $146.7 million
Granted, this $147 million difference in projected cash could be nothing more than a difference in timing of some revenue source. But it's not a great sign, and in the absence of any other information, we have to go ahead and figure we are running a bit short.
3. I've also been waiting on state revenue information, which has been a little more up-to-date, with January's report coming out last month and indicating things were mostly on track for what the LFB's estimated earlier this winter. But February's revenue data has yet to drop, and that's a huge month for budget purposes, since that it where we get our first indication of what the returns from tax season look like, which account for almost all of the income tax refunds that are given out in a year. Maybe the delay is based on Easter being last week, and we will see that information come out soon, but if we are getting a revenue shortfall that turns the second year into a deficit (a deficit on top of the $726 million in unspecified cuts that are already built into the 2016-17 fiscal year), that's a big problem. And it would be an awful headline for Wisconsin Republicans to show the nation as the country's political media turns to the state for next week's primary election.
Which it why it seems convenient to me for that information and other fiscal updates not to be available for people at this time. Are they trying to hide yet another state that's set to go through a ALEC/GOP-caused fiscal disaster? Or has the record-keeping somehow gotten shoddy or hampered, and there's a bigger story lurking about this administration's continued incompetence? Would you put either of these solutions past the current crew in charge?