State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
The executive and legislative branches of Wisconsin government are about to begin work on their single most important piece of business: the biennial state budget. The process is lengthy and complex with deliberations that will dominate the Capitol landscape until summer.
After the governor presents his 2009-11 state budget proposal to a joint session of the Legislature, the most powerful committee in state government, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) reviews the document. Following the JFC’s budget action, both the Assembly and Senate propose their own budgets that will be compiled by Democrats that control both houses. The budget approved by the Assembly and Senate must be identical. The governor can then make line item vetoes and sign the budget into law. State lawmakers do have an opportunity to override the governor’s vetoes, though doing so is very difficult.
This year’s budget debate will be one of the toughest in memory because of the precarious fiscal climate the state confronts. When it comes to fiscal matters, the state of Wisconsin always seems to rank at the top, and usually in a negative manner. Our tax rankings, for example, always place us in the top taxed states. The same holds true for our business climate. Here is another example.
Like many other states, Wisconsin must address a gap in the current budget before it can start tackling the 2009-11 budget. Wisconsin has one of the largest state budget gaps in the country according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). During 2010, Wisconsin is predicted to have a budget gap that will surpass 17.2 percent of its general fund budget, the fourth largest state budget gap in the country behind Arizona, New York and California.
Certainly, the recession gripping the nation is partially to blame for Wisconsin’s budget woes. However, the state is primarily responsible for its fiscal chaos, according to a report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI). In a nutshell, when crafting state budgets, Wisconsin taxes and spends too much, an irresponsible method of budgeting.
Wisconsin has fallen into the dangerous pattern of spending more than incoming revenue. Previous budget tactics have been highly questionable. Budget holes have been filled with one-time revenues, usually by raiding the state’s Transportation Fund designed to channel money toward road projects. The WPRI reports that according to the state’s own financial data, “from fiscal years 2001 through 2008, a total of $2.373 billion of these one time, non-routine, revenues was used to help the general fund show positive ending balances. Much of this came from the transportation fund, which was then made whole by issuing debt to backfill the hole left by the transfer.”
States are resorting to various measures to solve their budget problems including across the board cuts, hiring and salary freezes, travel bans, and dipping into their rainy-day funds. Wisconsin’s rainy-day fund strategy is to hope and pray for constant sunshine. The WPRI reports while the average state keeps between five and ten percent of its general fund revenues (sales, income, corporate taxes) in a rainy-day fund, Wisconsin keeps less than one percent, spending it on ongoing programs .With little to no more money set aside for economic downturns, the state’s vulnerable finances are in jeopardy.
I often tell constituents that attend my town hall meetings that the state, like a typical family, should only spend based on what it takes in. For too long Wisconsin has spent above and beyond its means. Yes, there is a recession. However, the state has itself to blame for its own financial mess.