Wisconsin is Not the Example of Frugality

Sometimes, office seekers should consider context when using standard political clichés.

For example, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold should have asked for a revision of a recent campaign advertisement.

The laugh line of his campaign so far was when he announced in a July radio ad, “In Wisconsin, we don’t spend money we don’t have.”

Obviously, Senator Feingold is attempting to portray himself as frugal, but he really should have used a better standard by which to promote the way he spends money.  Seriously, has Senator Feingold paid any attention to what has been happening in this state? Feingold’s fellow Democrat Governor Jim Doyle and the Democrats in control of the state legislature have been spending like a bachelor party gone amok in Las Vegas. Worse, they have been using your credit card.

When the legislature reconvenes next year, they will be facing a $2.5 billion structural deficit in the biennial budget. Even if the legislature does not increase spending, the Wisconsin budget will be short over $1.2 billion in each of the following years. That is how bad the spending binge has been.

Just last month Wisconsin learned via the MacIver News Service that the Doyle Administration was forced to shuffle money to cover a $260 million shortfall in the state’s general fund. In December (after the election) the general fund will be short $261 million, according to Department of Administration projections.

This is in a state budget that used $3.4 billion of stimulus funding, $2 billion on existing programs and increased borrowing to $3.58 billion. Raising taxes by more than $2 billion just wasn’t enough. By the way, somehow the legislature will have to replace that federal stimulus money in the next budget, too.

Adding to the legislature’s budget deficit headache, the state Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in July that the state budget raids on the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund were illegal. Legislators will need to reimburse the fund $200 million plus interest because the court recognized that the money was not theirs to play with.

Speaking of raiding funds for money that does not belong to them, Feingold’s colleagues in Madison loved to spend the transportation fund on things other than transportation.

Fans of the movie The Hangover will remember when the teacher pocketed the field trip money for his trip to Las Vegas. They will remember how the teacher pointed at the dentist whenever a credit card was needed at the hotel or the strip club.

Picture that on a much grander scale.

The state has transferred  $1.3 billion since 2003 from the transportation fund. Then they borrowed money to try to plug the gap in the transportation budget. The current state budget authorizes transportation bonding of $1.3 billion and still fell short by $435.4 million. Those deferred road repairs and road projects will have to be paid for somehow.

Even then, Governor Doyle and the state legislature have conspired with President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary Ray LaHood to commit Wisconsin to $10 million more per year from the transportation fund to operate a train from Milwaukee to Madison. That does not include the millions that the state and local governments will spend on building the train stations, and it doesn’t include the costs to complete the line to Minneapolis. (By the way, Feingold supports the train, too.)

Is this what Feingold means when he said Wisconsin does not spend more than it has?

No wonder the senator voted for the federal stimulus bill that spent over $800 billion with nothing to show for it. No wonder the senator voted for the federal takeover of health care. No wonder the senator voted for the latest “stimulus” bill of $26 billion more federal money for the states that the federal government does not have.

While the senator is telling us he believes a fiscally responsible government, we have to put it into context. He thinks they’ve been responsible in Madison, too.

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute