Steven Walters performs a good public service with today’s article in Urban Milwaukee. Walters uses a simple statistic- the top 10 areas of spending in the Wisconsin state budget - and compares what led 10 years ago, and what leads today. And what he found was illuminating regarding the choices state legislators and our governors have made.
Let’s start with the areas of our state government that have been having the largest increases of General Fund taxpayer dollars given to it.
Biggest gainers last 10 years
1.Medicaid and other health care- UP $2.12 BILLION (+62%)
2.Property tax relief/related tax credits- UP $950 MILLION (+102%)
3.Debt-service payments- UP $779 MILLION (+204%)
Caveat: Walters says “this large increase resulted from how borrowing was structured and does not reflect actual spending.” Seems to be related to the $400 mil+ that's advanced for that balloon payment that was just refinanced.
4.Corrections- UP $480 MILLION (+30%)
5.K-12 school voucher programs- UP $257 MILLION (+109%)
Walters also includes the Wisconsin Technical College System as a gainer, as it gets over ¾ of a billion dollars more from taxpayers than it did in 2005-07. But $406 million a year of the WCTS’s funding is the unfunded “property tax relief” giveaway put into law by Walker and WisGOP in 2014, and those funds can’t be used by WCTS itself. Take that out, and WCTS’s state funding has decreased by over $50 million in the last 10 years.
So in reality, the biggest items we are spending more money on are: medical care for the poor, property-tax giveaways and debt, and prisons and voucher schools. Many of these items seem to be related.
And then you contrast with the large programs that have not seen those large increases in Wisconsin over the last 10 years, and our changing priorities become even more obvious.
1.Shared revenues to local governments- DOWN $200 MILLION (-10.5%)
2.Shared revenues to K-12 public schools- Still the largest individual program, but only up 2% vs 10 years ago (well below the rate of inflation). And as a share of General Fund revenues, aids to public schools are DOWN from 39.7% to 32.1%.
3.UW System, up 9.4% vs 2005-07 (but still below rate of inflation), and Walters notes that “much of that went for debt payments.” Also, in 2005-07, the UW System accounted for 7.3% of General Fund expenses compared to 6.3% in this budget, and the UW System has been passed in total spending by Corrections during the last 10 years.
So let’s see, more help for voucher schools, and barely any extra help for public ones. More money given away in property tax relief from the state level, and money taken away from local governments, limiting property tax relief on that level. And we now spend more on prisons than we do higher education, and refuse to give relief to our rising health care costs by taking the expanded Medicaid in Obamacare because….???
Budgets reflect values. Looking at what we have chosen to spend (and not spend) on, do you think Wisconsin has been going in the right direction in its choices over the last 10 years? Cause I sure don’t.