Hey, big spender, spend a little dime with me | Wis.Community

Hey, big spender, spend a little dime with me

[img_assist|nid=40899|title=Mr. Monopolee|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=95|height=100]So, after all the heat and fury and smoke and light, it turns out that Gov. Scott Walker is ... a big spender. Walker wants to spend $65.53 billion over the next two years, more than $600 million above what Gov. Doyle and the legislature appropriated for the 2009-2011 biennium.

Why did Walker run for governor? To hear him tell it, over and over, it was to get state spending under control after years of allegedly profligate spending by that nasty Democratic governor and occasionally Democratic legislature.

Walker promises to cover a projected $3.6 billion state deficit over the next two years by taking significant pay and benefits from public employees (after first stripping them of their collective bargaining rights), drastically cutting aid to local governments and public schools and otherwise cutting into the marrow of social programs, environmental protection, and nearly everything else that doesn't look like the little Mr. Monopoly character from the board game. 

And how's that working out? Well, today, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau produced its analysis of the Walker budget proposal, and the result wasn't kind to Mr. Fiscal Conservative.

Despite all his draconian moves and stentorian rhetoric about being broke, our entirely reasonable Maximum Leader has, according to LFB, presented the legislature and the taxpayers with a two-year budget that raises spending. All that anguish and hand-wringing and blood-squeezing from the body politic, and for what?

To be fair, a person ought to pin the blame on inflation for much of that increase. However, to be absolutely fair, that same person also would have to acknowledge Walker's already enacted moves to further cut corporate taxes in the state, which in turn, at least under the Walker Method, requires balancing the budget by taking additional dollars from programs that benefit average Wisconsin people, along with those in the most need, and then sending local governments the bill in the form of unfunded mandates.

For example, recycling your trash will still be a state requirement, but now the state won't help your community pay for it. So you will, perhaps through fees or higher local property taxes. Or maybe we're all supposed to look the other way and let the state's environment degrade some more.

Walker's total proposed spending, the LFB helpfully informs readers of its report, includes $4.64 billion for the UW Hospital and Clinics Board and the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The governor wants to move both of those institutions along with the Department of Commerce off budget by creating quasi-public entities, but the two institutions will still book that amount of public revenue, even if the legislature actually goes along with Walker's scheme.

In the political arena, you can bet the gov and his aides won't ever be counting those billions as spending, because then the Walker camps would have to admit he'd broken his earlier pledge to cut overall appropriations. That insistence may make for great TV campaign ads, but in more sophisticated terms it's a difference without much distinction -- not quite the same thing as keeping two sets of books, the way Al Capone used to run his finances, but damn close. 

The hell of it is that the national economy should continue to perk up, however methodically. So the terrible financial meltdown that devastated revenues in states across the land and created these deficits will continue to ease. And when Wisconsin tax revenues return to normal levels as a result of this projected up-tick (and not mostly or at all because of anything Walker and his team will have done), we'll have another state surplus "cookie jar," like the one that existed during the early '80s under Tony Earl, the last Democratic governor before Doyle. Like Tommy Thompson before him, Walker is certain not to apply that eventual surplus to restore his painful program cuts or build up the state's rainy day fund. Nope, it'll be more tax cuts, and not for Ma and Pa Kettle.

LEANING ON THE FEDS:  By the way, one of the more intriguing figures in the LFB's report reminds us that Walker's widely known disdain for accepting federal aids is more symbolic than real. Sure, he refused money for the high-speed rail project among others, and he's trying to get out of programs that bring in federal health care dollars and other assistance.

Nevertheless, according to LFB's report: Under Walker, if the legislature concurs, the State of Wisconsin will in 2011 and 2013 rely on the federal government for fully 28.3 percent of its budget.

Did Doyle's last budget benefit from the federal government's economic stimulus program? It sure did. Does Walker's first budget benefit from lots of other federal dollars? You betcha. 

As with other Republican governors like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana before him, Walker is only too happy to take mucho dinero from the feds even as he bad-mouths such aids as handouts. Meanwhile, tsk, tsk, Wisconsin is broke, so Walker insists he must in turn slash state aids to localities. Yet, in between, there's simply no choise but to cut corporate taxes some more and send the bill to the rest of us living in this state. 

And none of this is supposed to come down on Walker. Nope, it's the fault of people who went before him, like Doyle. What'd Doyle do wrong? According to Walker's PR guy, he balanced his last budget by deferring costs to later years. It's really a sneaky little accounting trick that...

Wait. Isn't Walker himself about to refinance $438.5 million in state debt -- now almost paid off -- to push some current costs off into the future? He sure is, extending the state's long term debt in a refinancing scheme that is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars in additional interest payments that Wisconsin taxpayers will have to cover later. No one should be surprised. Borrowing heavily into the future is exactly how Walker "fixed" Milwaukee County's pension debt.

And that's not a budget gimmick, at least not if you're Walker and living in the Walker-verse. Nor is taking huge institutions like UW off the state's books, then pretending the money won't still have to be appropriated. Nope. Those are all, in the Scott Walker method, prudent moves at this juncture.

Published

March 28, 2011 - 3:39pm

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