As the GOP-run State Senate scheduled to have its last regular floor session on Tuesday, with scores of bills to consider in a one-day bum rush of activity, it seems important to step back and see if we actually can afford to hand out all of these goodies and initiatives before they become law.
With that in mind, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently released an updated look at the bills that have been signed into law, including the already-signed increases in aid small, rural schools, and increased tax credits for building rehab and start-ups.
Cost of bills already passed
The LFB analysis also included the costs of bills that are currently being considered in the State Senate, and that price tag is a lot higher.
Cost of bills to be considered
2017-18 $10.3 million
2018-19 $254.2 million
TOTAL $264.5 MILLION
These bills include big-ticket, pre-election gimmicks from Walker and WisGOP such as the $100-per-child tax credit, a sales tax holiday in August, $50 million for Rural WEDC grants, and $24 million to adapt parts of the state tax code to match December's tax cuts in DC.
But if all of these bills were to be shoved through the Senate next week, the LFB says there wouldn't be nearly anything left for the last 15 1/2 months of this year.
Projected General Fund balances under bills 2017-19
2017-18 starting balance $579.0 million
2017-18 projected ending balance $641.3 million
2018-19 projected ending balance $192.0 million
That $192 million is barely enough to run state operations for 4 days.
In addition, those projections show that the 2018-19 deficit would be nearly $450 million, which would carry over as the starting point for a structural deficit for the 2019-21 budget. Then along with that $450 million-a-year deficit, remember that the state is slated to spend $50 million for 2019-20 for Scott Walker's plan to pay insurers in the hopes of holding down premium increases.
Add in the increasing cost of some of these new tax write-offs, and this means that the 2019-21 General Fund budget would have a structural deficit exceeding $1 billion. And that's assuming revenues stay at the strong level that the LFB projected in January, and don't take a turn for the worse due to an economy that is slowing down (and there are already signs it is slowing).
It seems telling to me that as it became apparent that Walker's pre-election tax cut gimmicks and plans for restructuring juvenile corrections were being disregarded, Walker shifted gears to call a special session to discuss a $100 million plan to increase school safety (which doesn't do anything to deal with the guns that are a main part of the threat to school safety).
Walker seems determined to blow this already-shaky projected surplus before November's election, so he can be seen as doing....something, I guess. What's even more amazing is that NOT ONE CENT of the hundreds of millions of dollars he's trying to throw away would go toward fixing our crumbling roads, or even filling in the $90 million deficit on state highway work that is due to the Walker Admin sending $134 million to the Foxconn-sin region.
This fiscal idiocy and gimmickry is the mark of what you get with a Governor and state GOP more concerned with grabbing headlines and tricking low-info voters ahead of an election than in actually doing something that improves the life and future of Wisconsinites.
It also illustrates a "load up debt and then burn it down" mentality that is similar to how the corporate sector bankrupted Toys R' Us and other retailers, which will result in nearly 1,000 Wisconsinites losing their jobs in coming months. And you can bet more losses in services and jobs will be coming in our already-strapped public sector if the voters of this state are stupid enough to keep Walker and WisGOP in power past 2018.
Which might be the intelligence of the design of Walker and WisGOP blowing this budget surplus instead of being truly conservative, and letting things play out and making sure the extra money actually shows up before we spend it.