Friday, September 14, 2007

A Piecemeal Budget Avoids the Big Picture

A few thoughts on the GOP proposal to split funding for K-12 schools, tech colleges, and shared revenue from the rest of the budget.

For starters, it's probably the best option Republicans have politically-speaking. Once those parts of the budget are out of the way, thereby neutralizing much of the general public's concern over the budget, the GOP wouldn't have any trouble holding firm to most of its other demands to please its fiscal conservative base.

That said, it would be foolish for the Dems to go along with it, which explains why both Doyle and the Senate leadership have already rejected the idea outright.

But even beyond making sense in political terms, rejecting the idea also makes sense in policy terms.

To be sure, from the beginning of budget talks -- even before the conference committee took up deliberations -- the GOP has demanded a "no tax-increase" budget with a strict cap on total funding. Until that stance is addressed, there is simply no way the Dems can know what they're agreeing to on any individual piece of the budget.

Take the K-12 budget as an example. While total K-12 funding was about the same under the Dem budgets -- the governor's and the Senate's -- and the GOP budget to start, there was a significant difference in where the money was being spent. The Dem budgets put about $85 million more into general school aids, while the GOP budget put $100 million more into the school levy credit. You can read more about the differences in those choices here.

But the standalone proposal that the GOP is putting forward now includes the general school aid amount proposed by the Dems and the school levy credit amount proposed by Republicans. There are some cuts to categorical funds in the new GOP proposal, such as (unfortunately) a grant to help develop more K-4 programs in the state, but a funding difference still exists.

So unless the GOP has also announced a willingness to bend on it's "no tax-increase" policy and strict funding cap, it means that the extra funding is going to need to come out of somewhere else; yet, "somewhere else" is nowhere to be seen.

In other words, while the GOP may be mostly agreeing to the Dem proposal on K-12 funding -- as Speaker Huebsch has stressed for the media in recent days -- unless they're also bending on their strict stances on overall funding, it just means they're going to agree to even less down the line.

And therein lies the difficulty with piecemeal budgets, which is why state budgets -- at least in Wisconsin -- simply don't get passed that way (the feds have the comfort of same year deficit spending).

In fact, the last time it happened, according to LFB chief Bob Lang, was in 1995, and that was a case where the vast majority of the budget was passed on June 30, and just the transportation budget was held back due to some disputes over the gas tax.

That's notably different than the current situation where the proposal is to pass a few sections of the budget first -- in mid-September, no less -- and leave the rest for...well, whenever.

UPDATE: The LFB finds that the piecemeal proposals by the GOP would require $115 million worth of cuts to the rest of the GOP budget or abandoning the "no tax increase" pledge.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just so I have this straight; Budget impasse with Republicans and Democrat is caused by proposals that are so far apart that they have been unable to compromise, to date. Then, Democrats including Doyle, school, county and local officials claim a crisis for K12 education and local aids with regard to budgeting. Republicans agree that there is a potential crisis and offer to address crisis by granting most of what Democrats and Doyle want for K12 and local aids in a separate, stop-gap type bill, thus avoiding crisis. Democrats and Doyle say 'No'. Just so we're clear. Democrats want crisis and Republicans want to avoid crisis. Republicans demonstrate their desire to avoid crisis by giving in more than halfway on budget proposal. I wonder why that is? If there were a real crisis (and/or) Democracts really cared about what they claim to care about, then they would accept the Republican proposal. Otherwise, even the uninformed public will quickly figure out that Democrats, in this particular case, only care about themselves, their party and the next election, when they are hoping to be able to point back at this budget exercise and say bad things about the mean, old Republicans who didn't want Wisconsin to be the highest taxed state in the nation.

September 14, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Actually, you don't have it straight.

I explained in my post why passing the budget in piecemeal fashion isn't a good idea. While it does address the very real problem facing school districts, it creates new problems for the many other areas in the budget by reducing the amount of funding the GOP is willing to allocate to those areas (not to mention taking away much of the incentive for Republicans to work on the budget for those areas). Unless, of course, the Republican leadership has backed off its strict stance on a funding cap and "no tax-increase" budget, but I didn't see that on the table.

September 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also would prefer that legislators do their job by passing a budget, not a series of bills that then might not balance. That's the way we budget in our house -- looking at all projected costs and basing decisions on priorities. Otherwise, we could be dining on filet mignon but not be able to pay the price of gas at the pump.

So -- the question is: Since the Republicans now have agreed to increase the K-12 budget to what the Dems and Doyle said it would have to be (to keep property taxes from going even higher), where do the Republicans plan to cut that much from the budget?

Don't you want to know? I sure do, before it turns out to cost me even more than I have budgeted this year -- because I plan ahead based on realities ahead.

I don't imagine, as they do, that I can use the same budget I had two years ago, before so many costs such as fuel increased. (Or actually three years ago, since the budget is biennial but based on the best projections submitted by agencies many months before.)

September 14, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

We agree entirely, Anon. Thanks for your comment.

September 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep -- I ought to have made clear my message was for the first Anon.

Now let's see what first Anon says about what else the GOP will agree to in the larger budget by Tuesday, when the GOP unveils its separate K-12 budget bill . . . to which the Senate will not agree. So this is just more posing for the cameras instead of getting the job done of getting us a state budget.

I also wonder just how the GOP reps on the JFC feel about all the time that they put in to negotiate the budget bill in the first place. We do seem to have a legislature that is doing the same thing over and over for no result, which is the same result -- and that is the definition of insanity.

September 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Important update -- thanks again for that. But it probably deserves a new, separate post to get noticed!

September 16, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said...

No problem finding $115 mill. in the highway budget.

In fact, if Doyle hadn't stolen $400 million from there LAST time around, there would be plenty of funds for roads AND schools.

Too bad Ol' Jimbo stole that money, no?

September 16, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Save us the tired GOP talking point, Dad29; that one wore out during the election last year. You want to talk about poor accounting, the fact is the GOP's 07-09 budget would end the biennium with a $208 million larger structural deficit than the governor's budget proposal.

And I don't doubt the Assembly could come up with $115 million more to cut. The point is that until the GOP bends on its strict funding cap and no tax-increase positions, the Dems really don't know what they're approving with any piecemeal agreements.

I may toss up a separate post on the update, Anon, but I'll probably wait until I can weave it into a broader context. Otherwise, I'll just get comments like the one by Dad29 (who, I suppose, ignored the context this time around, anyway).

September 17, 2007  

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