Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Whoops! Don't close the books on Wisconsin's 2016 fiscal year yet!

Bad enough that the 2016 Annual Fiscal Report verified a total revenue shortfall of more than $100 million and a smaller-than-budgeted year-end balance, but Molly Beck in the Wisconsin State Journal is now reporting that the books may not be closed for Fiscal Year 2016.
But not all state agencies have finalized how much money they spent and received in fiscal 2016, according to a note in the report.

“Agencies continue to work on final allocations of appropriation revenues and expenditures. Therefore, final adjustments to this report may become necessary,” the note said.

Steve Michels, spokesman for DOA, said the note in the report was added “out of an abundance of caution because this was the first year (the report) was published” using a new statewide accounting system.

“In the spirit of full disclosure and an effort to be transparent, it was determined that a note was justified,” said Michels. “The 2016 (report) includes all (agencies’) submitted revenues and expenditures.”

He said if any final adjustments are necessary, those changes will be made for the report’s balances by Nov. 20, when a report is released that includes all agency budget requests and estimated revenues for the 2017-19 biennium. Michels emphasized if changes are needed, they would be minor.
And that was something I found weird when I looked at the Appendix to the 2016 AFR. In past years, the Appendix has around 75 pages and has detailed information on specific grants and expenses within agencies, and identifies how much each agency spent. That's not in this year's report, as the Appendix cuts off after 9 pages, and only has topline numbers about the Conservation Fund, Transportation Fund, and the UW System. And that was disappointing to me, because it's often much more intriguing to dig down and see where expenses and programs differed from budgeted expectations.

The lack of information 3 weeks before the elections is "interesting" to be sure, but lot of this may well be innocent- there have been numerous issues with the state's new multi-million dollar STAR system that is housing both human resources and financial information, and that's the real story from Beck's article, more than the fact that the fiscal information may not be complete. It also means that the November 20 report becomes all the more interesting to look at, to not only see how much of a deficit looms for the 2017-19 budget (this is where the "$2.2 billion deficit" estimate came from 2 years ago), but also to see if we may be below the already-low $313.8 million cushion that we had going into the 2017 fiscal year.

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