It’s time for real change. I have the privilege to be Mayor of Superior, a beautiful lakeside community in northwest Wisconsin. Before I ran for office the city was on a spending spree, debt service was over 10% of our budget and tax rates were on track to rise substantially over the next several years.
While state government has increased debt since 2003, we have reduced the debt of the City of Superior. While the state government bond rating has declined since 2003, the City of Superior’s bond rating has improved. While state taxes and fees have increased dramatically since 2003, we have kept tax increases in Superior to less than the rate of inflation.
In the Governor’s last budget brief back in 2007 the Legislative Fiscal Bureau predicted “healthy growth in state revenues”. Outlook said growth would be 3.2% in fiscal year 2007-08 netting $398 million dollars in new revenue and $458 million in new revenue in budget year 2008-09, resulting in growth of 3.5%. However, revenues actually declined by 4.2% netting a loss of 547.8 million dollars. In fact it was the revenue predictions that created the problem with our huge deficit. The Governor spent money that never materialized. So it was a spending problem as much as a revenue problem.
You would think we had learned our lesson to not spend money we don’t have. In the Governor’s current 2009 budget brief, out comes the rose colored glasses. The same group that brought you the last failed prediction is saying revenue will be growing by 2011 by a healthy 4.5%, netting the state 548.9 million dollars in new revenue. Once again, Governor Doyle is proposing a budget dependent upon revenue that does not exist. The problem with this budget behavior is that it will ensure future structural deficits or will inadequately fund our rainy day fund, which is undercapitalized.
Few people create a home budget based upon what they hope to have in future income.
A fiscally responsible budget is what Wisconsin taxpayers demand of their elected officials. Our budgets rely too heavily on borrowing and tax and fee increases rather than sound fiscal management. Raising taxes and fees in a recession will only cause more jobs to be lost.
Real change does not start with the budget it starts with how we deliver services. Just giving government more money doesn’t give you better government. You cannot blame the Governor for the economy, but he is responsible for the deficits. The State budget is not just a revenue problem it is a spending problem as well.
When I was a young boy, and worked in my father’s upholstery shop, one of the craftsmen my father employed told me “never to spend found money”. I will never forget that advice. If the new revenues in the next budget years materialize it should be saved in the rainy day fund. I look back at the advice an old upholsterer gave me. He never ran a multi billion dollar budget, did not have a degree in economics, he just worked hard everyday providing for his family. But he turned out smarter than some of those that do.
It is time to change to responsible state spending and budgeting. Rosy revenue forecasts and out of control state spending have caused great harm to Wisconsin taxpayers. We need to provide essential state services without mortgaging the future of our children.
By Mayor Dave Ross