State must stop digging budget hole
Will Rogers famously coined the saying, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." I urge our legislative leaders to heed this sage advice as they continue to work day and night to pass a budget in the middle of what is one of the worst fi...
Will Rogers famously coined the saying, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."
I urge our legislative leaders to heed this sage advice as they continue to work day and night to pass a budget in the middle of what is one of the worst fiscal crises Wisconsin has ever faced.
The answers they come up with will undoubtedly be painful and largely unpopular. At least I hope so. Avoiding difficult decisions -- on their part and on ours, the citizens of Wisconsin -- is a large part of what got Wisconsin into this mess in the first place. And trying to ease the pain of making tough calls by resorting to accounting gimmicks and transferring "one-time funds" from unrelated pots played a very significant role in putting us in this dire situation.
As the executive director of a non-profit transportation group, the example of transferring funds to solve a budget problem that comes to my mind is the fact that Wisconsin has raided the transportation fund to the tune of more than $1 billion over the past six years. Each time, it was billed as a one-time "transfer" that would help us get over a temporary general-fund shortfall until the economy improved.
These transfers not only hurt our transportation infrastructure, they -- along with other gimmicks -- have contributed to the precarious position our lawmakers find themselves in today.
No matter which side of any cut-spending, raise-revenue debate you may be on, it is plain that our legislators face real-life choices and a past inability to accept that fact -- on their part and ours -- has led us to where we are today.
The proper mix of cutting programs or services and raising additional revenue will remain in the eye of the beholder as the budget is debated and after it is signed into law.
There are very compelling arguments on all sides. At a time when households across the state are experiencing their own fiscal crises, it seems unfair, and even cruel, to burden families and workers with increased taxes or fees.
On the other hand, the current economic state of affairs creates situations where government services are needed even more by increasing numbers of people. And cutting investment in prevention programs, education and job training will most certainly have an overall negative impact on all of us in the future. I don't envy our lawmakers task of striking the proper balance in this budget.
There is no doubt that the nationwide recession is contributing to Wisconsin's financial crisis. But it is also a fact, as reported by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, that Wisconsin is one of only four states in the country with a Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) deficit. And it is true, as well, that Wisconsin's GAAP deficit is the largest on a per capita basis.
In addition, according to a report on CNN, Wisconsin is now tied for the third-worst bond rating in the country. And our bond rating outlook is characterized as "negative."
These facts speak to how Wisconsin is faring relative to every other state that is also experiencing the worldwide recession, and it is not good.
While we most likely will not agree with all of the answers that ultimately emerge from Madison in the coming days, we need to urge our elected representatives to budget responsibly and we must remember that our unwillingness to hear bad news from them in the past has helped to put us here today.
Craig Thompson is the executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.