Thursday, February 15, 2007

Budget Talk is Cheap

It's very typical for members of the opposite party to attack the governor's budget proposal. It's a large document that can be picked apart from a number of angles using a variety of calculations that suit the attacker.

For instance, while the GOP was glad to quickly estimate the total amount of new taxes and fees that Governor Doyle's budget includes, they are not so quick to consider how the new tax breaks for health care, child care, etc., will offset those increases.

Nevertheless, in spite of how commonplace this is, it's still worth pointing out that it's ridiculous at best and counterproductive at worst.

Taking a trip down memory lane, it's interesting to look at how Governor Doyle's budget proposal, on the whole, compares to the last Republican governor's budget proposal, which would be Scott McCallum in 2001.

That year, McCallum released his budget proposal to the legislature on February 20. The next day, Steve Walters of the Journal Sentinel opened his article titled "Governor Seeks to Curb Spending" with the following:
Republican Gov. Scott McCallum on Tuesday handed lawmakers the smallest budget increase in 30 years -- balanced with $350 million from the one-time sale of future tobacco industry payments -- and asked that future spending be tied to increases in personal income.
Walters followed up by noting that the "smallest budget increase" line was in reference to a 3 percent increase in GPR spending in FY 2001 and a 2.9 percent increase in FY 2002. And, later in the article, then-Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Brookfield) praised McCallum for "hold[ing] the line on spending and taxes."

Fast-forward to earlier this week, the day after Doyle released his budget proposal to the legislature, Steve Walters, Stacy Forster, and Patrick Marley of the JS wrote in their article titled "Doyle Seeks Tax, Fee Boosts":
The governor proposed $57.7 billion in total spending, including state and federal funds, over the next two years - a 9% increase over the current budget.
And the current Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) added that Doyle "outlined a number of priorities to a lot of different groups tonight, but the one priority he seemed to forget was the taxpayers."

Seems like two completely different budget proposals, right? Well, not so much.

While McCallum's budget proposal did only include a 5.9 percent increase in GPR spending, as Walters noted in his article, the total budget increase -- which was the figure Walters, Forster, and Marley noted in their recent article on Doyle's budget -- was 9.6 percent. That's 0.6 percent more than the increase in Doyle's current budget proposal.

And while Doyle's budget proposal does include a total revenue increase of 9 percent, when only considering the increase in GPR spending -- which was the figure Walters noted in his 2001 article on McCallum's budget -- the increase is only 3.5 percent. That's quite a bit less than the 5.9 percent increase that McCallum proposed in 2001.

Thus, it's fairly clear that Doyle's budget proposal, on the whole, isn't out of step with previous state budget proposals, even the one that came under the last Republican governor who was openly praised for his proposal's fiscal restraint.

So can we move past the attempts to score cheap political points on the budget proposal and get on with using it to craft the actual budget that will get adopted this summer?

Labels: , ,

11 Comments:

Blogger Dad29 said...

OK.

I'll concede that STATE-levied taxes are as small as you claim, forgetting the fact that MUNICIPAL and SCHOOL levies will rise faster as a result of D's proposals,

...if and only if you concede that reducing the projected rate of growth is NOT a "spending cut."

Fair?

February 15, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I'm a little confused about what you're asking. Are you talking about the Bush proposal for Medicaid and Medicare funding?

And what I write in the post about GPR and total revenue under Doyle's proposal is not my "claim," it's right there in the documents I cite. Whether you "concede" should be based on your reading of those documents, not some trade with me.

Lastly, on the issue of property tax increases, that's a local decision. Doyle is not telling local units they need to increase tax levies by 4 percent, he's merely giving them that option. If people don't want to see their local units take full advantage, they should inform their local board or council. After all, I'd much rather have my tax rate decided by a local board down the street that's made up of my neighbors than leggies and the governor in Madison.

February 15, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said...

We are in total agreement about "local control."

So when will you endorse dismantling the Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction?

February 16, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

There are a couple of different facets to local control of schooling.

One is funding. In my view, Wisconsin does it right by establishing a reasonable base for all districts in the state through the 2/3 funding commitment. Beyond that, I think school districts should have control to determine their local revenue amounts, but I'm amenable to putting reasonable state limits on annual increases (4-5 percent sounds reasonable to me, assuming the 2/3 state funding is maintained).

The other facet of local control pertains to curriculum. On this front, the DPI in Wisconsin is actually pretty flexible with local districts. In fact, recently it has been forced to defend the flexibility it grants districts regarding state standards against charges leveled by conservative organizations like the Fordham Foundation.

(More concerning to me on the curriculum front is a movement -- as I see it, an off-shoot of the national standards and accountability movement -- within the educational research sector to increase commonality between classrooms in the same district, which may be okay in the early years and in some older classrooms, like math and science, but it presents big problems in others, like social studies, which I discuss more here.)

So, in the end, I guess I don't see a large benefit from dismantling the DPI. It's very possible to have strong local control even with the existence of a centralized state agency for PK-12 education.

February 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DPI carries out requirements under state and federal law, something someone else would have to do if it were dismantled. I don't see that dismantling DPI gets you any closer to local control. If you want to restore more local control than what you really need is to have the legislature repeal some of the statutes currently in place.

February 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"4-5% sounds reasonable to me" How come when liberals talk about spending my money, 2x the inflation rate seems reasonable or even low, and a 3.8% raise is too small to live on. Why can't we hold spending increases at or below the level of inflation, so the tax burden doesn't continue to grow?

February 16, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

How come when conservatives talk about paying taxes, they act like they're the only ones who do it?

I never said local units should raise property tax levies by 4-5 percent annually; I said they should have the ability to do so. Local units are made up of local property taxpayers, so they are voting on increasing their own and their neighbors taxes, it's not like that's going to happen without concern for the community's ability to pay or consideration for whether the funds are needed/desired for a worthwhile program.

February 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From where I sit, we are the ones paying the taxes. Your profile says you are an educational administrator. Which means you are much more vested as a recipient of tax dollars than as a taxpayer. And in a state that spends 40% of our educational dollars on administration, rather than in the classroom, you are the among the reasons that Wisconsin's tax environment is what it is.

February 16, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Oh, I get it, everyone who works in the public sector shouldn't be taken seriously when discussing tax issues because they inevitably won't be able to look beyond their own financial interests. Does that also go for Republican legislators and their staff?

And, for the record, I work for the UW, which is surely why I think there should be local control over property tax levels.

February 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes that most certainly goes for Republican legislators and staff. I never claimed to be a Republican. As I see it, the nature of government is to try and get bigger. Republicans haven't done near enough to reduce the size and scope of the government, when given the chance. And I think that the opinion of everyone should be filtered based on their relative position to a subject. While I might glean some very useful information from my local car dealer, about a new model, I'm certainly going to keep in mind that selling that model (or viewpoint in your case) has a direct impact on his bottom line. In my opinion, Wisconsin's taxes are very high, and in princple I'm against any tax increase, whether I'm paying it or not. I don't think government has the will to make the tough choices it(like most of us with budgets) needs to make. In a high tax state like Wisconsin, any budget that comes in with increases in excess of the cost of living, means that they haven't even tried to prioritize. Perhaps, some new programs deserve a chance, but that chance need to come at the expense of another program and not on the backs of the middle class.

February 16, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

There's a big difference between a car dealership and the government, and that's representation. You have a direct voice in the way things work in the public sector, you don't have that same direct voice in the private sector (although it's true, in most instances, that you have an indirect voice through your consumer choices). To claim that anyone who is elected by the public should be listened to less on tax issues because they have, through being publicly elected, took on a position that's paid by the state just doesn't make any sense, and even the most conservative legislator out there would tell you the same.

And, just as a side note, there's a difference between taxes and the size of the government. According to the LFB, relative to personal income, Wisconsin ranks 17th in the nation in total state and local government revenue (page 14) and 24th in the nation total local and state government spending (page 38). That's the size of government in this state, and it isn't all that big relative to the rest of the country. And in terms of growth, the LFB found (see page 12) that over the past 5 years, total state government revenue has grown under the rate of inflation. While inflation has been about 3.1 percent in those years, state government has grown at just a 2.1 percent clip.

But the reason Wisconsin is such a high tax state -- at least when it comes to income and property taxes -- is that it relies on them as revenue sources. When you look at other taxes like the sales tax and other forms of revenue like fees and assessments, Wisconsin ranks quite low nationally (31st in the sales tax and 28th for fees and assessments, according to the LFB report cited above), which is because other states rely more on them for revenue. Either way, though, it's coming out of the pockets of citizens. And, on the whole, what Wisconsin state and local governments take from citizens isn't all that outrageous, particularly when considering the excellent programs citizens get in return.

February 16, 2007  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home