Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday For an Expensive Government Program Today

Say what you will about the Wisconsin State Legislature: they stick with what works.  And in the case of the looming state Medicaid deficit, they’re going right back to the same playbook that allows them to slink silently away from their problems without making any real decisions – while leaving us with larger deficits in the future.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state is facing a $1 billion hole in its Medicaid program.  For the purposes of scale: A billion dollars is a lot of money. The $1 billion shortfall makes up about 17% of the total amount the state spends on Medicaid in a year (although $1 billion is slightly less than the amount Tiger Woods is going to have to spend on a diamond ring for his wife to keep her around.)

Certainly, the state is taking this matter very seriously.  Undoubtedly, our Legislature is combing through the state budget to find efficiencies, or cost-saving measures, or other state programs than can be cut in order to fund this program.

I’m sorry, I can’t keep a straight face anymore.  In fact, what they’re actually doing is taking almost $200 million in payments and just pushing them off until the next biennium, so they’re off the books in this fiscal year.  Then, POOF!  The money just disappears! – Until next year, when they have to figure out how to fill that $200 million hole.

This is a textbook example of how the state has been running up huge structural deficits over the past decade.  The Governor and Legislature decide they want a certain level of government, but have no way to pay for it.  So they just keep pushing spending off into the future, until we end up with a $6 billion deficit when tax revenues slow down.  Naturally, they wash their hands of any responsibility – blaming the deficits on the bad economy.  (I wrote a 40 page paper demonstrating how it actually is their fault, and I think it’ll come in handy for you, especially if you’re an insomniac.)

Perhaps most entertaining is the quote from Governor Doyle’s Medicaid Guy, Jason Helgerson, on why the state is seeing deficits:

Jason Helgerson, who oversees BadgerCare Plus and other Medicaid programs, said the potential shortfall could be offset if the federal government extends the increased payments that states are receiving for their Medicaid programs under the federal recovery act.

“Every state in the nation is facing this,” Helgerson said.


Furthermore – it’s extremely doubtful that other states are facing the problems that Wisconsin now has to solve.  After all, we’re the state that increased spending 6% at a time when we faced a $6 billion deficit.  And we’re the state that has no rainy day fund to use when times gets tough.  And we’re the state that allows drunk Santas to drive around, terrifying kids (which isn’t really relevant, but entertaining nonetheless.)

So here’s a test – call your bank and tell them you’re a little short on cash this month, so you won’t be making any mortgage payments until July.  Congratulations – you just balanced your books, Legislature-style! Then call me from jail and tell me how the experiment went.

1 Comment

  1. I will gladly pay you today for a program that keeps me alive Tuesday.

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