Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The budget bill that ate Wisconsin

Prominent on my computer desktop is the pdf file of Governor Doyle's proposed state budget. It's more stimulating than a double-espresso. All you have to do is click on any page (AB75) and the ohmigawds will come out of you while your blood pressure rises.

In last week's column for the Waukesha Freeman, I took a look at some of the goodies in the state budget gift bag for some of Doyle's friends.

Gov. Jim Doyle will give plenty in the next state budget. Despite an era of fiscal retrenchment, he proves himself very generous, at least to those on his preferred "nice" list.

Governor Doyle proposes the repeal of the qualified economic offer for his friends in the teachers unions. The QEO is what allows a school district to give annual increases in teachers’ combined salaries and benefits of at least 3.8 percent in return for avoiding salary arbitration. The repeal in the QEO will likely mean the return of exploding employee compensation costs in school districts, and exploding local school property taxes.

The governor proposes making "domestic partners" of homosexual government employees eligible for state benefits. He proposes releasing many "nonviolent" prisoners from jail before the end of their sentences. Doyle even proposes extending collective bargaining rights to faculty and academic staff of the University of Wisconsin System.

The biggest present under anyone’s tree is the giant increase in transportation spending. Santa’s special government spending sleigh is going to have a smooth ride.

Governor Doyle is proposing a $271.8 million tax on oil companies for increased transportation spending. He says that the government will make sure the tax will not be passed on to the consumer.

Of course, the state also fought to preserve the minimum markup law that kept gas prices artificially inflated. Many in Madison are still upset over the repeal of the automatic gas tax increases. And many environmentalists in and out of government believe gasoline prices should be much higher to encourage us all to drive less. It’s not like the state has a big incentive or a good track record for keeping gas prices low.

And what’s Christmas, even Christmas in February, without trains? Doyle’s proposed budget includes the establishment of regional transportation authorities. The Southeast RTA would include Milwaukee and Kenosha counties, and the portion of Racine County east of the freeway. Waukesha County could also join the RTA if it chooses (unlikely) but the budget bill also allows individual municipalities to join as well. So even if the rest of Waukesha County wisely says no, the city of Waukesha could say yes.

Since then, we've learned about more horrors hiding in the budget. Many of these items are not really budget items, but policy items that deserve far more debate and scrutiny than can be afforded to an individual item in a state budget bill that eventually must pass.

For example, the governor has proposed increasing the minimum level of auto insurance coverage. This will result in increases of 33% or more in insurance premiums, an increase that may cause many families to opt out of auto insurance entirely. More uninsured motorists, more money out of the family budgets for those that keep their insurance, all to give more money indirectly to the trial lawyers.

In the Waukesha Freeman on Thursday (still just 50 cents, even under Governor Doyle), I'll be taking a look at some other non-budget items in the budget bill.

In the meantime, consider this.

...while Doyle promised “major” cuts to make up the deficit, his proposed budget spends 8% more in 2010 than it did in 2009. His increases are funded largely by swapping out general fund spending for federal “stimulus” aid, which constitutes a one-time budget plug. In the most egregious example, Doyle cut school equalization aid by $498 million, then replaced it with $498 million in temporary federal funds. Additionally, there are hundreds of millions of dollars Doyle plans to sprinkle over the budget like fiscal oregano, seasoning his budget to the government workers’ tastes.

Christian Schneider at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute also points out Governor Doyle's "plan leaves structural deficits of $2.5 billion in 2010 and $2.3 billion in 2011 – barely less than the $5.9 billion he claims to have 'balanced' this time around."