“No Budget” is Not an Option

Never did I dream that getting a state budget would be so difficult. Wisconsin is the only state with a July 1st deadline that doesn’t have its budget passed. While progress has been made, the end is not in sight.

The talk in the Assembly has moved from ‘no new taxes under any circumstances” to “no budget”. After all, why do we need a budget?

Unlike other states, Wisconsin continues to operate on last year’s budget until the legislature finishes its work. Why not just continue under last year’s numbers?

To understand the answer, think about your checkbook. Let’s say your boss just told you that there would be no new money this year. But costs have gone up.

To make matters worse, extra money coming from your Uncle Sam is not quite what it used to be. For the state, money coming from the federal government is less than it has been. The federal government, as well as state government, is in a budget crunch.

Add to the rising costs and lower revenue, a problem we don’t face with our own check book: once the budget is finished, the state can’t move money around from one place to another.

At home, when costs go up and we can transfer money from one account to another. We can “rob Peter to pay Paul”. But once state funds are ‘appropriated’ – designated for one purpose or another - money labeled for roads can’t be used for prison guards.

And, costs have gone up. Just to keep the state going – all current programs and services – will cost us an additional $856 million. That is the cost for the state to provide services adjusted for inflation and population growth.

Add the education package agreed upon by both houses and you have nearly a $1 billion deficit. The state must have money to cover this shortfall.

To cover both rising costs and fewer dollars, some things will have to go. Without a budget, roads and bridges will not be repaired – some of them right here in our area.

Without a budget vital health programs will not be adequately funded. For example, BadgerCare will be short $11.4 million dollars; 11,000 seniors will be turned away from much needed FamilyCare services and the SeniorCare program will face a $9.3 million shortfall. Money will be needed to cover rising drug costs.

With no budget Wisconsin will not be able to provide all promised health care to seniors and the poorest among us – and will lose an estimated $400 million in federal matching funds – money sorely needed to provide these services.

The state budget now being debated is for the next two years, so some of the effects of “no budget” could be delayed. But, unlike the state, the university operates on a yearly budget. Without any state budget, university money will run out in April, making the entire spring term impossible without a tuition surcharge. Estimates put this surcharge at $800 per student.

We will see the effects of “no budget” right here at the UW-Eau Claire. Today, at the UW in Eau Claire, there are 254 students are on a waiting list for financial aid. Five thousand students statewide are waiting to know if they can continue school. If there is no budget, these students will not receive financial aid.

The hang-up in the budget negotiations appears to be the Republican Assembly’s promise that they would never support any new taxes. But we cannot deal with rising costs and lower revenue without some increases in money.

To solve the problem, the Senate has offered many compromises. Be it Healthy Wisconsin, trash tipping fees, hospital Medicaid funding, we have made many offers that have not even received serious consideration.

Negotiation involves give and take on both sides. But “no budget” is not an option.

Got ideas on how to move passed the budget impasse? Give me a call. Contact me at the State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or sen.vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov; call Black River Falls (715) 284-1730; or Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free). Have you missed a weekly column? They are all posted on my website at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen31/news/