By Kevin Binversie
NEWS ALERT: In February, Wisconsin Democrats seized on forecast data from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau suggesting the state would run a surplus of $12 million at the end of June 2012, but would plunge into the red soon after—running a budget deficit of $143.2 million by the end of June 2013.
Leading the charge: Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. Barca said the bureau’s numbers helped illustrate “how Gov. (Scott) Walker’s irresponsible budgeting and lack of serious focus on jobs and the economy have left Wisconsin fiscally unsound and caused us to fall farther behind on the road to economic recovery.”
Now comes the state Department of Revenue’s new estimate on tax collections indicating that Barca and the Democrats were wrong. Those numbers for June 2012 roughly $265 million collected more than previously projected. Far from a deficit, the June 2013 budget is now likely to run a surplus of $154.5 million.
Instead of applauding the new numbers — and the governor’s performance — Democrats across the state claimed the numbers are purely political, intended to puff up Walker before the June recall election.
We expected better from the Democrats, and so we offer our services. We’ve created the following letter that Barca can send to Walker:
From: State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, 64th Assembly District
To: The Honorable Gov. Scott Walker
Dear Gov. Walker:
Let me be honest: if you were your predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle, I’d be penning a legislative resolution at this very moment to honor you for producing numbers like those the Department of Revenue released .this week
You’ll understand my suspicion. As you and your budget staff know, Gov. Doyle was a master at goosing the state’s fiscal numbers. Let us not forget that my colleagues and I sat silently in August 2006 when David Schmiedicke, Doyle’s budget director, stated that 5 percent annual growth in the state’s general-purpose tax collections would be enough to offset the state’s advance commitments. Schmiedicke did that while hiding a $1.6 billion deficit from the public that was revealed only after Doyle’s re-election in November of that year.
On his way out the door, in November 2010, the former governor tried to tell us the state was looking at a manageable $1.5 billion shortfall by June 2013, when in fact most experts believed the real number was more $2.2 billion—and that was before we even started looking at the books.
PolitiFACT rated Gov. Doyle’s claim “false.” Undeterred, I plunged ahead.
“The evidence is clear,” I roared. “Gov. Walker’s economic plan is not working. Massive giveaways to large corporations and wealthy special interests, extreme policies that have harmed Wisconsin working families and six straight months of job losses have all added up to the poor budget projections we see today. When people are not working and not spending because of Republican priorities, the state is going to see a drop in revenues.”
Today, it’s hard for me to look at that without squirming. I comfort myself by recalling that I wasn’t alone — that other Democrats were saying the same.
“Gov. Walker has spent millions of dollars in campaign money to try and convince us he’s balanced the budget — and the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau is showing he’s flat wrong,” said former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.
I could also blame a kind of temporary insanity — could say that my February cock-a-doodle of victory was a result of preoccupation. Back then, I was pretty busy thinking about running against you in the June recall. I don’t have a head for numbers to begin with, but with a gubernatorial campaign on my mind — fundraising, media and buttons (wherever two or more political hacks are gathered, considerations of font, color and button size become unbelievably complex) — I was probably unrealistic about the realities of budgeting.
“Probably”? Undoubtedly. No one can honestly predict tax revenue on year-to-year basis, let alone month to month.
After all, I used to see congressional budget forecasting. What a joke!
So in closing, I just wanted to tell you ahead of time it is the intention of my office to attack you no matter what the numbers say — good or bad, historical precedent or no. I cannot be seen praising you for fixing a budget in which my solution was massive tax and fee increases — just like the one we Democrats passed with the 2009-11 budget.
With economic policies like that it’s no wonder the state lost over 150,000 jobs when we ran the place!
Please keep this letter to yourself. I have an image to maintain, after all.
Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.