Thursday, June 22, 2017

WisGOP budget sins continue, no matter whose plan it is

We’re going to wrap up another week in June without any meetings of the state’s Joint Finance Committee, which means there is virtually no chance of getting the Wisconsin state budget done on time. In isolation, this isn’t a big deal in the short term, but the underlying divide between Republicans in the two houses of the Legislature seems to still be out there, and they don’t seem to be getting much closer to an overall solution, and progress is limited to fits and starts.

Given the statements from Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos and JFC Co-Chair John Nygren in this summary, we may see some action on K-12 spending by June 30, but that the main events will still largely be held behind closed doors without Dems or the public being allowed to give input on shaping things.
The Joint Finance Committee won’t meet this week, though Nygren said it’s possible the committee will meet next week to finalize education and a few other topics where there is no disagreement. Transportation and tax cuts won’t likely be resolved before July 1, when the new budget calendar begins.

If a budget isn’t signed into law by then, funding for state government will continue at current levels. In 2015 the budget wasn’t signed until mid-July, and Vos and Nygren remained hopeful this year’s budget would be completed by then.

Vos said he preferred to continue meeting with Senate Republicans to work out a deal before scheduling another budget committee meeting.

“It’s not for lack of working on the budget, it’s just doing it in a process to try to find consensus,” Vos said.
The biggest difference is still in transportation funding, where Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s solution to rising debt costs and increasing potholes is to follow Governor Walker’s plan of kissing up to DC lobbyist Grover Norquist with a “no tax, no fee” pledge, and borrowing into oblivion- except Scotty Fitz and the Senate GOP want to use even more debt to hamper schools and the poor even more for the future!
Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said $350 million of that borrowing would be supported by Wisconsin's general fund, which gets its revenue from income and sales taxes and pays for expenses like schools, prisons and health care for the poor, elderly and those with disabilities.

Most borrowing for roads is typically paid back by Wisconsin's dedicated transportation fund, which gets its revenue from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Tanck said paying for the new borrowing Fitzgerald supports would cost the state's general fund a total of $8 million in the next budget.
This is a horrible idea that somehow not only continues the problems of excessive debt in the Transportation Fund, but also raises expenses in a General Fund that already is looking at a $1 billion deficit starting in 2019, in part due to similar borrowing stunts that have been pushed off debt payments into future years.

To their (limited) credit, the Assembly GOP doesn’t seem too keen on keeping the cycle of “borrow and pay later” as a strategy for DOT funding, as both Vos and Nygren are saying that continued reliance on borrowing without a long-term plan on revenue isn’t an acceptable answer to them (Vos called more borrowing “a Band-Aid to us.”).

But the real problem with this budget remains the same issue that hit most places run by Republicans after a while- tax cuts to the rich and corporate mean that there isn’t enough revenue to fulfill all the needs that still exist (along with a refusal to raise taxes for items such as transportation). At the same time, gimmicks that were used to balance the books have already had their benefits be used up. In Wisconsin these gimmicks include the one-time savings of Act 10 (and the resulting damage to the economy), skipped debt payments, and massive DOT borrowing. Now these bills are coming due.

And there is little evidence that there will any kind of population or job boom or outside help from DC that’ll bail this budget out. In fact, Wisconsin’s population growth has slowed to near zero and 2016 featured our slowest job growth in 7 years. On top of that, the Trump/GOP gang in DC wants to cut spending and/or pass the burden of paying for programs down to the states…when states like Wisconsin don’t have enough money to begin with.

The GOPs that are huddling in the Capitol won’t say that in public, but I sure will. It is their negligence and “politics over policy” mentality that has caused this mess of a budget, and no solution they will end up with over the coming weeks (or months?) will solve the problems that they have caused.

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