Have a go at your own state Build-A-Budget
With apologies to the Build-A-Bear retail chain that has cost us grandparents millions of dollars, this is a Build-A-Budget column.
How to play: On Jan. 24, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that state government will collect $328 million more in general-fund taxes in the year that starts July 1—a 2.4 percent increase from tax collections this year.
The Fiscal Bureau also reported that the available surplus on July 1 will be about $419 million.
So, the $419 million surplus and the $328 million growth in tax collections gives you—the Build-A-Budgeteer—about $747 million to spend next year.
How will you spend it?
You’re making spending calls before Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who will make public his two-year budget on Feb. 20. Republicans who control the Legislature are expected to approve most of Walker’s spending blueprint by June.
Here’s a list of the most expensive state programs. Decide whether to give them less or more cash next year and, if more, how much more.
--K-12 education: State government spends about $4.29 billion a year on public schools, according to the fiscal bureau. That doesn’t include property taxes, federal aid and miscellaneous fees.
Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers requested a one-year boost in spending of $161 million—or about half of the one-year increase in tax collections.
What do you think? Should $161 million—of the $747 million available—go to K-12 schools?
Also, Walker may recommend separate “bonus” aid payments for public schools that show the biggest improvements. That raises this question: Should any “bonus” performance payments come from the $161 million increase in aid or from a separate fund—a new fund of about $30 million, for example?
--Medicaid: Wisconsin’s health care program for the elderly, poor and disabled will cost about $2 billion in state tax funds this year. The federal government pays most of Medicaid’s costs.
Next year, state officials have asked for $251 million more in state tax funds to run the Medicaid program, which provides care for about one in five Wisconsin residents.
The calculator is running: If you spend $251 million more on Medicaid and $161 million more on public schools, then you only have $335 million more available.
--Income tax cut: Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican leaders of the Legislature have promised to cut income taxes on those with taxable incomes of between $20,000 and $200,000.
If you spend $150 million on an income tax cut, and go along with requested amounts for public schools and Medicaid, you’re left with only $185 million, Budgeteer.
--Technical colleges: To help plug a budget deficit, Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges took one of biggest cuts in state aid in the current two-year budget. Next year, the board that runs the Technical College System wants much of that lost state aid back.
This year, state aid to the technical colleges totals $108.2 million. Next year, the board wants $36.2 million more in aid—a 33 percent increase. Do you agree?
--Aid to local governments: This year, state aid to local governments totals $878 million—money that helps pay for critical local fire and police services and helps control property taxes. But if you give local governments an increase in aid equal to the national rate of inflation—2.1 percent—it will cost $18.4 million next year.
--“Rainy day” fund: On July 1, state government will have to keep a surplus of at least $65 million. If you think state government should set aside even more money as a hedge against economic or other emergencies, how much should that be? Another $50 million or $100 million?
--Pay raises: State workers have gone years without pay raises, and they are shelling out more for their pensions and health care than they were two years ago.
Giving state workers 2 percent cost-of-living raises would cost about $36 million next year, if it was paid over a full 12 months. If that 2 percent raise kicked in Jan. 1, it would cost about $18 million.
How’d you do, Budgeteer?
If you spent more than the $747 million available next year, you may have a future as a Capitol official. If you spent much less, the tea party might be looking for you.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.