Was flipping by my usual group of websites, when I saw the return of an old friend. It’s the State of Wisconsin’s Monthly Statement of Receipts and Disbursements by Fund. Yes, I know you’re screaming “NERD!”, but I noticed because it had been gone from the state’s budget site for several months, and then the report recently reappeared with all of the prior months included.
These figures do not match the General Fund’s budget balance (they largely measure cash on hand), but it does give an indication where things are going. And a gander into these figures gave me an indication why Gov Walker’s Administration may have pulled a “scoop and toss” maneuver in early May 2016 that moved $101 million in debt payments to future years. This April report included much of the tax season’s filings, and it hit around the same time that the “scoop and toss” decision was made. When I compared it to what was projected at the end of January 2016, you might see where the Walker boys’ concern came from.
Cash balance, actual vs projected, Jan-April 2016
Jan 31 projected balance $2,184.0 million
Jan 31 actual balance $2,162.0 million (-$22.0 million)
Feb 29 projected balance $2,177.8 million
Feb 29 actual balance $2,031.0 million (-$146.8 million)
March 31 projected balance $1,320.8 million
March 31 actual balance $1,175.2 million (-$145.6 million)
April 30 projected balance $1,540.8 million
April 30 actual balance $1,088.6 million (-$452.2 million)
My guess is that the Walker people looked at that $452 million disparity, and thought that meant a sizable budget hole was opening up, even with the $284 million cushion baked into the 2015-16 state budget. At this point they panicked, skipped the $101 million bill of debt they had due, and shoved it into future years.
And what’s sadly funny is that it appears likely that they didn’t have to do it. After May’s revenue figures came in, the adjusted figures indicated there was a minor shortfall, but one that could have been easily covered with that $284 million balance. In addition, there were an oddly-small amount of cash disbursements in May, falling almost $500 million short of what was projected, meaning that the cash shortfall is just under $140 million- no different than it was in February or March. I gotta ask- did Walker and his budget office not correctly account for the fact that April 30 and May 1 fell on a weekend, and messed up their projections accordingly?
Whether the lower May disbursements is because of transfers or a payment timing thing or something else, I don’t know. But it’s worth noting that the Wisconsin DHS said last week that Medicaid spending is now projected to go $175 million UNDER budget for 2015-16 (if you want follow-up on the Medicaid numbers, the Wisconsin Budget Project has some good info on it), so maybe we’ll get some breathing room on the expense side.
However, just because the 2015-16 budget may end up OK, this doesn’t let the Walker Administration off the hook for their “scoop and toss” decision. Now Wisconsin taxpayers will pay over $13 million this year and $104 million over the next 8 years when that number would have been $0 had we merely made the scheduled debt payment.
So what’s really going on, Scotty? Is the budget really in big trouble and the May figures are hiding worse news in the next few months? Or did you stupidly waste money in future years because you either didn’t understand the numbers you saw. Or your staff did understand the differences, but you wanted to pose and make the budget look good now to outsiders at the expense of later years?
No matter what the answer is, it shows that we don't exactly have calm, long-view leadership down there in WalkerWorld. And we deserve better.