Thursday, July 13, 2017

Disasters keep striking, but Walker budget has less $ to recover

Now that the rains have finally gone away in Southeastern Wisconsin, the cleanup and damage assessments can begin. Heaviest hit seems to be western Racine and Kenosha Counties, including what the police chief in Burlington calls “unprecedented” flooding, with all 4 bridges over the Fox River closed, and thousands still without power.

Governor Walker and Assembly Speaker/hometown boy Robbin’ Vos parachuted into Burlington today to survey the damage, and Walker issued a state of emergency to activate the National Guard and allow for other forms of immediate state assistance. But long-term, there will likely be need for road and bridge repairs associated with these floods, and barring federal help from FEMA, the state may have to be burdened with picking up a decent amount of that bill.

Unfortunately, the floods happened less than 2 weeks after the end of the 2017 Fiscal Year, which means it falls into the next budget. And Scott Walker’s 2017-19 budget plans to cut the amount of tax dollars that is set aside for disaster assistance (as noted in PDF Page 323 of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s rundown of the Governor’s budget. These funds are regular tax dollars that are sent over to the Transportation Fund, and are in addition to the $1 million that is regularly set aside in the Transportation Fund for disasters.
Make the following changes to the disaster damage aids transfer appropriation: (a) a decrease of $2,450,000 in 2017-18 to reflect the removal of first year funding from the base; and (b) an increase of $788,200 in 2018-19 to reflect an increase in the estimated amount needed to fund disaster claims in the 2017-19 biennium. 2013 Wisconsin Act 20 established a sum sufficient appropriation from the general fund to fund a transfer to the transportation fund in the second year of each biennium equal to the amount of disaster aid payments made in that biennium in excess of $1,000,000 for any single disaster event. The transfer was estimated at $6,500,000 in 2016-17 under 2015 Act 55. However, this amount was subsequently reestimated to the current base level of $2,450,000 to reflect slower than expected reimbursement claims for damage related to a 2011 storm in northwest Wisconsin (will that have to be paid in this next budget?). The Governor's recommendation would remove the 2017-18 base funding amount and fund the estimated transfer at $3,238,200 ($2,450,000 base funding plus the $788,200 increase) in 2018-19.
This now means that more money needs to be put back into the budget to keep funding for disasters at the same levels that we had for the last budget. And we don’t have that extra money lying around to add back in.

Another disaster that hit this week was in northeastern Wisconsin, where there was yet another incident involving a large animal farm that requires cleanup.
The owners of Neighborhood Dairy reported the spill Monday and have installed a temporary clay dam to contain the runoff.

An agricultural runoff specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said it’s not known how much manure entered Dutchman’s Creek located outside of Freedom, southwest of Green Bay.

Ben Uvaas said Neighborhood Dairy reported at least 20,000 gallons of manure were released from a holding pit.

"The farm estimates 20,000 gallons was lost from the pit," Uvaas said. "So out of that a fraction, a percentage would have gotten to Dutchman’s Creek. That’s probably the best estimate we’re ever going to have for this."
And James Rowen at The Political Environment notes that just adds to the list of manure spills, in an excellent post that also mentions the Walker DNR's inaction and slow-walking of new rules in recent years, despite increasing contamination and spillage from these large farms.

Seeing way too much of this.

For cleanup of these types of spills, the DNR is often called in to help defray some of the damage and put in remediation measures. But that is another provision where the Governor plans to use fewer tax dollars for 2017-19, and instead will deplete the state’s Environmental Fund to deal with runoff pollution (see Page 348).
Reduce by $3,152,500 annually the sum-certain GPR transfer to the nonpoint account of the segregated environmental fund. The bill would reduce the annual GPR transfer from $11,143,600 to $7,991,100. However, the GPR reduction would be offset by a transfer of $3,152,500 each year of the 2017-19 biennium from the environmental management account of the environmental fund.
And even with the transfer from the Environmental Management Account, you will see that the fund condition statements for Wisconsin’s Environmental Management and Nonpoint Accounts (which is at the end of this paper from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau), you will see that what is set aside for operations and cleanup efforts is slightly DOWN form what was allocated in the recently-completed Fiscal Year. And once that money is gone, you’re on your own when it comes to dealing with the mess and contamination that is caused by those mega-farms and their lack of regulation.

In addition, the LFB notes the budget bill is written in such a way that the reduction in tax dollars going to the Nonpoint Fund is permanent, but the transfer from the Environmental Management Account is not.
…the nonpoint account is estimated to begin the 2017-19 biennium with an available balance of approximately $6.6 million. Nonpoint account expenditures are estimated to exceed revenues by $1.6 million in 2017-18 and $1.9 million in 2018-19. Account balances would be sufficient to support such expenditures, and the June 30, 2019, available balance under the bill is estimated to be $3.1 million. It should be noted that transfers from the environmental management account are one-time, while the reduction in GPR transfer would be ongoing under the bill. As a result, adjusted base expenditures in 2019-21 are anticipated to exceed ongoing revenues by approximately $4.4 million annually.
Which means the next budget has to come up with at least another $1.3 million just to maintain operations (before inflation), or has to cut $1.3 million from operations dealing with nonpoint pollution and related issues.

Fortunately, DNR and DOT disaster assistance has yet to be decided on in the delayed 2017-19 budget, so perhaps the recent floods and runoff stories would encourage legislators to at least restore funding to the prior budget’s levels. Heck, maybe to it to handle what seems to increasing needs to deal with these disasters.

But the fact that the extra step would have to be taken because of Governor Walker’s lack of preparation funding speaks volumes. Of course Walker would try every nickel-and-dime trick to squeeze out money of necessities just to clear room for another campaign talking point. And bleeding out programs that protect the environment is just the way the Koch-ALEC crew likes it.

Maybe the WisGOPs should have shot this budget through when they had the chance, because it seems like with every day it gets delayed, some other complication springs up that makes the budget gaps even harder to close.

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