Tuesday, March 27, 2018

School safety scam drains whatever is left of the state's coffers

With the recent flurry of activity and extra expenses that have happened at the Capitol, let's give a look at where we stand at budgetarily, and also look at one big-ticket item in particular - the special session bills on school safety.

In going back to a memo released by the LFB earlier this month, it showed that if the Wisconsin Senate used its previous last session day to sign off on all parts of Governor Walker’s and the Assembly GOP’s spending spree, it said that we would only have a cushion of $117 million (after $75 million in required reserves).

While most of the items in that list eventually passed the State Senate, there were two major exceptions.

A sales tax holiday was drastically limited in both scope and maximum write-offs, which lowered that tax cut from $51.5 million to $12 million.

Walker’s wish for a $50 million “rural WEDC” program was shot down by the Senate last week and seems unlikely to be revived.

The proposed Kimberly-Clark bailout was not on the LFB list, so there’s no “savings” to be added in due to not taking that action, so the total added back would be $89.5 million. However, that memo also didn’t take into account the new $100 million “school safety” package that sets aside a new pot of money, which will all be set aside in this fiscal year (although it can be drawn from in a number of years after that).

Add in another $450,000+ for administration of the “school safety” funds for the Department of Justice, and the projected budget numbers look like this

2017-19 budget under newly passed bills
Opening balance 2017-18 $579.0 million
Ending balance 2017-18 $541.2 million
Ending balance 2018-19 $181.1 million
MINUS required reserves $75.0 million
Cushion remaining $106.1 million

In other words, we are forecast to be down an additional $11 million from that $117 million figure, to $106 million That’s less than 0.7% out of a General Fund budget of nearly $17.5 BILLION in the next fiscal year. One bad hiccup in the economy, and Wisconsin will be flailing just to stay above water.

And let me talk a bit about that band-aid of a “school safety” bill. This is what Attorney General Brad Schimel sent out yesterday as part of a press release on the new grant program.
Until the formal grant application is finalized, any school that is interested in applying for grant funding may submit a short letter of interest to the DOJ at schoolsafety@doj.state.wi.us, identifying the following information: (1) a single point of contact for the school along with contact information; (2) the type of school safety project you hope to implement; (3) the name of the law enforcement agency that will review and approve your project; (4) an approximate dollar amount of the grant you plan to request; (5) whether your project could be in place for the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, and; (6) when you will be in a position to submit a fully developed application and plan.
That’s right, Schimel’s Department of Justice is saying “just send us a letter and we’ll figure out if it makes sense.” The DOJ gives no guidance what will or will not be allowed (that includes arming teachers, which Schimel has already said he was in favor of). There also seems to be no idea if there will be limits on how much one school can get, or if the DOJ will care one whit for equity across school districts.

Which makes me think this “school safety” scam program is simply $100 million that Schimel’s DOJ can play with much like a WEDC handout. Isthmus's Alan Talaga beat me to it on Twitter, and said it better.

I already figured this school safety stunt was a pre-election move to try to deflect heat from the NRA-bought WisGOPs like Walker, Schimel, and most GOP legislators. The cynical side of these bills to make the WisGOPs seem like they give a damn about keeping students safe, but without having to deal WITH THE GUNS AND ARMED PEOPLE THAT MAKE IT UNSAFE.

One other clear flaw in the school safety scam is that it's one-time money- once it's handed out, it is gone, and there has to be further action to keep the program going. Which'll happen in a time when money for all services will likely be even more constrained than it is today.

That also reveals the plan as a slapped-together stunt by Walker to try to slide through the November 2018 elections. You can see where him and fellow cynical GOP hack Walker will use the distribution of these funds as cheap photo ops instead of any kind of long-term strategy to make schools less likely to be afflicted by violence. And it has the side effect of making an already-bad 2019-21 budget even worse, partially because the lack of cushion will lead to a sizable deficit that'll have to be figured out, and because a choice will have to be made to see if more money should be used for this school safety initiative (which will take away from something else), or if we are sent back to square one because WisGOP didn't make a real effort to solve the problem in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. - Is it cynical to wonder how much upside is left in this current prosperity swing? Seems to me like we're already overdue for a course change.

    - If there's one thing I've learned being around government, it's that while you might set aside one time money, there is no such thing as a one time cost. Even something as small as a security office needs to be staffed and maintained. Every computer has an ongoing cost for maintenance and software. And of course, there's the replacement cost when the improvement reaches its end of life.

    - I have a lot to say about arming teachers if you'd like to open that topic up further.

    We can start with the lunacy of expecting amateur target shooters to cope with the most nightmarish law enforcement situation there is with the barest minimum of training.

    If that's not enough to put people off, let's discuss the liability aspects of such a program. Would you carry a firearm as a teacher without having a huge personal umbrella policy of some sort? Not if you have half a brain in your head.