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Maybe they didn't get the memo

October 13, 2010 | 08:43 AM
Even though the next governor will not unveil his proposed state budget until sometime in February, budget and finance officials in every state agency have already begun submitting their budget wish list. Keep in mind, Wisconsin will have a new governor in January, and certainly, whoever ends up in the Executive office will have their own ideas and perspective of the size and scope of state spending.

Unfortunately, as Gov. Jim Doyle leaves office, he also leaves the state with yet another multibillion dollar budget deficit, which must be dealt with by the next governor and Legislature. I believe the upcoming budget cycle may be one of the most challenging, as these runaway deficits must come to an end. That means additional cuts will be in order, and very few — if any — state programs or agencies will be spared from the budget chopping block.

Earlier this summer, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau issued a dire memo to lawmakers regarding the state's current and projected financial status, one which members on both sides of the aisle should take to heart. The Bureau anticipates a budget deficit of $2.5 billion on day one next year, with the potential for that number to go higher, depending on consumer spending and other economic trends. No matter how it's read, the news is not good. But looking at the recent budget requests made by a number of state agencies, I don't believe they got that memo.

Every major state agency — Administration, Commerce, Corrections, Health, Natural Resources, Public Instruction, Revenue — and many more, are requesting increases to their operating budgets, even though revenue is down and the budget deficit continues to trend up. All totaled, those agencies are asking for more than $1 billion of increased spending for the 2011-13 biennium. Some of that new spending is being sought in order to replace one-time federal funds from the previous budget, as provided by the so-called federal stimulus package. In other words, some state agencies consider that temporary funding as a permanent cost.

As I have said before, tough decisions are required in order for the state to survive this economic calamity. We all have a responsibility to craft a fiscally-sound budget, one which must eventually be approved by the Legislature. But these requests by the state agencies only make matters worse, and will only make the work of the Legislature that more difficult. Of course, the next governor has the ability to reject any budget requests prior to introducing his version, but depending on who occupies that office, it remains to be seen how much pain government is willing to accept, or if that pain will simply be passed along to Wisconsin families and businesses.

Relying on more shots in the arm from the federal government are not the answer to the state's budget mess, nor is asking people to pay more and more each year. The state needs to, once and for all, recognize the economic realities occurring all around the state, and make a commitment to rein in spending wherever possible. We should also get away from this "cost to continue" method of budgeting, and instead, consider "zero-based budgeting," which requires spending decisions to be justified each year, and not based on previous years' spending.

Whichever course is set in the next year, Wisconsin can not continue on this circular path of increased spending, borrowing, and taxes, only to be followed by another massive budget deficit. While some reports show improvement in the economy between 2011 and 2013, we should not rest easy and look for ways to spend more than taxpayers can afford. I am disappointed those state agencies do not appear to share that sentiment, and disappointed with their obvious disregard for the "costs to continue" for the average Wisconsin family. Perhaps I should send them a memo.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882, or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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Walworth County