On the Friday before New Year’s, the Walker Administration sent to the Joint Finance Committee the annual update on plans for “Unsupported Overdrafts.” This is when a governmental account that relies on money that isn’t from taxes (or indirectly via other agencies) has “insufficient moneys, assets or accounts receivable to cover expenditures at the end of each fiscal year.”
The concern about this is obvious- if there isn’t enough money to cover these expenses, then there needs to be a “bailout” from tax dollars, or some kind of added fee or cuts in the program needs to be made. Overall, these unsupported overdrafts went up by more than $10 million in FY 2017, and ended the year at more than $76.1 million.
In looking at the overdrafts for this year, a couple of spots are interesting and/or concerning.
Corrections – this item ended up $3.23 million in the hole in Fiscal Year 2017 for juvenile services. The reasons? “A declining juvenile population as well as unanticipated expenditures to fund contracted health staff.”
So how is the DOC looking to fix this deficit? Part of it is due to a new $6 charge charged to counties to house juvenile offenders, and they’ll pay nearly $7 million in tax dollars to deal with the added cost. This is independent of any changes to juvenile facilities that will fall out due to the scandals at Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills.
Department of Justice/Courts - Both items are related to the lack of fees going into accounts that are supposed to pay for themselves. The first is the Penalty Assessment Surcharge account, which had an extra $2.37 million added to its deficit in Fiscal 2017, and is now nearly $8 million in the red. These include extra fees for items such as doing DNA tests and other costs associated with various investigations and crimes. The document gives no explanation for what might be done to stop this bleeding of money, and what adjustments need to be made.
The other item was a one-year deficit of $1.13 million for FY 2017 for the “Justice Information Fee”, with a total deficit of nearly $3.5 million. This based on a $21.50 fee added onto certain civil proceedings, with $6 of that going to the CCAP online court information service, and the rest go to fund various DOJ and Courts accounts, and $700,000 gets sent back to the General Fund to make the bottom line look better.
But that $21.50 is obviously not enough to handle the costs, even with the Penalty Assessment Surcharge taking over $232,700 for court interpreters, and the overdraft document says that “additional legislative changes” will be needed to deal with the deficit. Sure seems like members of the JFC should ask for Attorney General Brad Schimel to give a visit to discuss what should be done to close these multi-million dollar deficits. (HINT to you Dems!)
And last on this list is the ongoing costs associated with the state’s new STAR system. The unsupported part of this overdraft grew by more than $5 million, from $30.44 million to $35.86 million, and that increase flies in the face of what the Walker Administration was saying this time last year in the 2016 version of the overdrafts report.
Costs incurred by the [D]epartment (of Administration) for STAR project work and financing will be recovered by an annual assessment to state agencies beginning in fiscal year 2016-17. With the deployment of STAR Releases 1 and 2 in fiscal year 2015-16, the department has also begun incurring postdeployment maintenance and operations costs for the system. These costs began to be recovered from agencies starting in fiscal year 2015-16 and will continue to be recovered annually thereafter. As such, the ongoing costs will not contribute to the deficit in this appropriation.Uhh, that increase in the deficit of $5.4 million in the following year tells me that 2016's promise of “not contributing to the deficit” didn’t quite work out.
The plan is for the STAR money to be recouped via payments from other state agencies (this is the indirect tax dollars I was referring to earlier) and it sure seems like we would need to know if this STAR project is going to stay in the red in the near future.
Related to that, shouldn’t we find out how much extra other state agencies are going to have pay to make up the difference for the STAR project – a cost that will inevitably take away from other state services?
Yes, this annual Overdrafts report seems like a dull bit of paperwork. Yet that's often where you find some stories that'll crop up later, as there are millions that need to be handled and taken care of, and if we had a functioning government at the Capitol, this information would lead to action to adequately pay for and cover these expenses. But don't count on that happening with an administration that always chooses to kick issues down the road and ignore the real problems until they become implode and require much more drastic action to fix.