I have a job, wife and a life, so I haven't had too much of a chance to go in-depth on the newly-released state budget, other than skimming the Budget in Brief, 0but here are a few thoughts.
1. This thing is clearly set up as a Christmas tree of talking points, and full of minor tax cuts and symbolic funding increases that Walker hopes to sell on the 2018 campaign trail. But a $5-a-month income tax cut or a $10 property tax cut doesn't seem to be as much help for our economy vs. using the $300 million of those tax cuts to fix roads or restore the 2015-17 cuts to the UW System (neither of which seems to be happening with this budget). And there's even pointless crap like depositing $20 million to the state's rainy day fund instead of using that money for real needs. But what do you expect from a lifetime politician who has no regard for anything other than helping his donors and grabbing more political power.
2. As I predicted yesterday, the budget counts on $60 million in savings from starting up a new self-insurance system for state employees in 2018. Somehow, the Walker people figure that the only fiscal impact will be in cost savings, without any drop in economic activity due to higher premiums and deductibles (both by state employees, and in other HMOs who will raise their fees to make up for the lost business), or in the numerous state job losses that would happen from certain health care organizations not being part of the new program. Yeah, I'm not counting on that, and that reality may well sink this scheme when the Joint Finance Commission is able to give an up-or-down vote on the plan later this year.
2. There seems to be NOTHING to improve things for the deficit-ridden Transportation Fund, other than cutting spending by $171 million beyond the already-bare budget request. This is after the budget request expected several projects, but somehow, the budget still claims that projects like Verona Road and I-39/90 won't be delayed. I gotta figure out how that magic trick works. The only positive I can find so far in this budget on DOT is the decision not to build an unnecessary expansion of I-94 from the Zoo Interchange to downtown.
3. K-12 public school spending does go up by $649 million, but only $72 million of that is in General aid (and that's only in Year 2 of the budget). Combine that with a $43 million increase that is slated for voucher schools (with much of that money being offset with aid CUTS to the local public school district), and we're in a situation where even though the per-pupil bump in aid will help, many Wisconsin schools could fall even further behind their peers over the next 2 years. This will likely creating districts and communities with an even wider gap between the haves and have-nots, and I think there's a better, more equitable way to invest in our underfunded schools than this.
4. Walker's Administration projects a Fiscal Year 2017 ending balance of $453 million, which is even higher that the $427.2 million that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected 3 weeks ago. Looks like that's based on higher estimates of non-tax revenues and spending that's even lower-than-already expected. But then that $453 million is blown over the two years of this budget.
Projected balance, Walker 2017-19 budget
2017-18 Start $453.0 million
2017-18 End $297.8 (-$155.2 million)
2018-19 End $81.7 million (-216.1 million)
2018-19 Required reserves $75.0 million
TOTAL BREATHING ROOM IN WALKER BUDGET $6.7 MILLION
That $6.7 million cushion is less than 0.04% of all state expenses...or about 3-4 HOURS of General Fund operations. And this is going off of the LFB's assumption of a Trump Boom over the next 2 years. Not an "implosion" kind of Boom mind you, but one of alleged economic growth that lowers unemployment from 4.8% to 4.1%. Let's just say I think we should be a bit more cautious than Gov Walker on that projection.
Lots more to look at as we go further, but those are my immediate impressions at first glance. Feel free to add in your own below.