Monday, September 8, 2014

In one way, Walker's structural deficit is worse than Doyle's -- it came during a recovery

Gov. Scott Walker has no excuse for why the state's financial books are in disarray

Wisconsin is facing a $1.76 billion budget shortfall, and Gov. Scott Walker has no one to blame but himself and his Republican friends in the legislature -- the structural deficit is their own creation, and blame cannot be spun to portray it any other way.

Gov. Scott Walker (image by Gage Skidmore)
The new shortfall blunts the argument that Walker has made previously that he and his so-called “reforms” helped turn things around in Wisconsin. In campaign advertising, Walker continually says he turned things around in the budget, inheriting a deficit and creating a surplus.

Now, due to his irresponsible budgeting and election-year tax cut gimmicks, Walker is facing a significant budget shortfall of his own, one that couldn’t come at a more problematic time for the embattled governor. Walker currently trails Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke by four points in the latest poll, just two months out from election day.

With lousy jobs numbers (a failed campaign pledge from 2010), Walker needed the budget to lean on as an example of his fiscal strength. Now it seems that he doesn’t even have that to rely upon in the final stretch of this campaign.

“But wait,” you might say, “isn’t Walker’s budget shortfall still better than Doyle’s was? Didn’t Walker still make things better?” That argument is worth a look at, but it falls apart after you consider this: Doyle’s budget shortfall came at a time when the world was in an economic recession.

In other words, it was an inevitable shortfall: with thousands of people losing jobs, the state lost substantial dollars in tax revenue. At the same time, those people who lost jobs needed health insurance, and found it in the state’s Medicaid program, BadgerCare.

It was a double-edged sword: the state paid out more than expected in health care and other safety-net programs, but took in less than it predicted it would in taxes. No program of Doyle's led to the shortfall that was created. It was all dumb luck as a result of the recession.

That was then -- today we are in a recovery. And during this recovery, we should be seeing a growth in tax revenue as more people come back to work. We would also have seen some help with BadgerCare, had Gov. Walker expanded the program under the conditions allowed to him under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Walker didn’t take that money, however, and we’re paying more for healthcare than we should as a result of that decision. Equally irresponsible, to look good in an election year, Walker cut taxes for Wisconsinites, which is good in theory, but only if the state can afford to do so.

For creating a fiscal mess, during a time of recovery no less, an argument can reasonably be made that yes, this structural deficit is worse than Doyle’s. Maybe it isn’t better in terms of the size of the deficit, but Doyle had an excuse -- he had to deal with the effects of world-wide recession.

What’s Walker’s excuse?

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