Lately, we\’ve been talking a lot about the possibility of recession and what that could mean for the state\’s finances.Â An economic slowdown would harm Wisconsin far more than it would other states, since our state doesn\’t have any kind of meaningful budget reserve on which to draw.Â And if you don\’t believe me, I have 18 pages to prove it.
Naturally, it\’s going to be hard to set money aside when the state is trying toÂ plug the shortfall that is almost certain to come.Â As the old saying goes, \”you don\’t fix your roof when it\’s raining.\”Â It would be much easier to set money aside during the good times – but since the state has never really recovered from the deficitsÂ caused byÂ the 2001 recession, there really haven\’t been any \”good times\” recently.
As it turns out, the Legislature has recently contemplated the need to set money aside.Â State Representative Eugene Hahn, who has announced he\’s not running for another term, has introduced Assembly Bill 329, which would dedicate one percent of state expenditures to a budget stabilization fund.Â Apparently, responsible budgeting is reserved for people who don\’t have to worry about running again – which may be a decent argument for term limits.
In the grand scheme of things, Hahn\’s bill is fairly modest.Â As the WPRI report points out, nationwide rainy day funds had reached $62.1 billion, or 10.9% of expenditures, by 2006.Â Hahn\’s bill merely appropriated 1% of expenditures to assist in future budget crises.Â Given, Hahn\’s bill has no chance of being signed into law as separate legislation – any money set aside would almost have to be done as a larger budget package.Â But it is instructive to smoke out members of the Legislature who refuse to think ahead and save money for future downturns.
In May of 2007, the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means heldÂ a hearing on Hahn\’s rainy day fund bill.Â Naturally, Hahn showed up to testify in favor of the bill.Â Curiously, the \”nonpartisan\” League of Women Voters showed up to oppose the bill.Â In their testimony, they compare the bill to the now-defunctÂ Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and say they \”oppose it as the antithesis of the real need of the State to increase its revenues.\”Â They said that the bill \”contrasts with purpose of the \’rainy day fund\’ which is to ensure revenues are available despite shortfalls in tax and other revenue collection which are due to swings in the economy.\”
(To see an actual copy of the League of Women Voters\’ testimony, click here.)
Trying to parse such incoherence is impossible.Â Basically, they\’re saying that the state\’s biggest problem is that they don\’t collect enough in taxes.Â Yet even if they achieved their \”high tax utopia,\” (we\’re already there, incidentally) there would still be substantial deficits in times of declining revenues.Â In fact, the more the state relies on taxes, the bigger the crash will be when a recession hits.Â It appears that rather than using money saved up, they would much rather increase taxes during an economic downturn, which would further punish people who are out of work or making less in salary.
(By the way, ladies, Â aren\’t you glad the League of Women Voters speaks for you? Apparently, a requirement of being a \”woman\” in Wisconsin is to push for more income and more spending.Â Something Wisconsin husbands figured out years ago.Â Am I right guys?Â Hello?Â Is this thing on?)Â
Despite the fact that their position will likely send the state careening into economic discord, it appears they were convincing to a number of members of the committee.Â Â When the committee voted on the bill in July, Â it passed by an 8-to-5 margin:Â Republicans Kerman, Lothian, Hahn, Jeskewitz, Wood, Pridemore and StrachotaÂ were joined by Democrat BobÂ Ziegelbauer in favor.Â Democrats Steinbrink, Fields, Hebl, Toles and Kessler all voted to protect Wisconsin\’s standing as the worst-budgeting state in the nation.
In other news, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau today estimated a $300 to $400 million shortfall in the current biennium.Â My paper assumed a $408 million shortfall this biennium, based on the length and depth of the 2001 recession.Â So it appears my estimates may be pretty close.Â (In fact, the LFB memo essentially says they\’ll get back to us in February – so my $408 estimate may be enough to get me to the Showcase Showdown.)
In Governor Doyle\’s State of the State speech last night, he bragged that the state had \”cut spending, cut taxes, and deposited $50 million in a rainy day fund.\”Â Set aside, for a moment, the laughable notion that this past budget cut taxes and spending.
In fact, Doyle was required to deposit that $50 million in the budget stabilization fund by a little-known law passed in Governor McCallum\’s 2001 budget.Â The provision, tucked away in the 2001-03 budget, required half the state\’s unanticipated revenue be placed in the rainy day fund.Â Had that provision not existed, I think we all know what the chances are that Doyle would have set that money aside.
So thank you, Governor McCallum.Â Your assistance in writing Jim Doyle\’s talking points is duly noted.