[Madison] The day after the Federal debt exceeded $16 trillion, Wisconsin officials announced their state's finances are strong and getting stronger.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, total general purpose revenue (GPR) tax collections increased 4.7 percent in fiscal year 2012 to $13,514.6 million. That beats, by 126.6 million, the Department's May 2012 estimate of $13,388.0 million.
"These positive revenue numbers are very encouraging, but expenditures must also be counted. DOA is reconciling the spending numbers, and I fully expect to report the largest transfer to the Budget Stabilization Fund in the State's history," said Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch. "After years of record budget deficits, we are clearly headed in the right direction."
Where states like Illinois have dramatically raised taxes in failed attempts to meet budget shortfalls, Wisconsin lawmakers avoided tax hikes, yet have seen their budget picture brighten.
"Wisconsin is leading the way for states around the country," said Rep. Robin Vos, the Assembly co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance. "We took care of our old bills and made good fiscal decisions. We didn't use accounting gimmicks, raid funds or raise taxes; we used honest budgeting."
In January of 2011, Wisconsin lawmakers and newly elected Governor Scott Walker were facing a projected $3.6 billion structural deficit. They subsequently ushered in a series of austerity moves. Whereas the previous state budget increased spending by more than six percent, the 2011-13 plan increased expenditures by only 1.8 percent. In anticipation of reduced spending and state aid cuts, a change in public employee labor law allowed state and local governments, including school districts, the flexibility to address revue shortfalls by requiring increased employee contributions to their health and retirement benefits.
The contrast between the two State of Wisconsin budgets is even more significant when considering that the 2009-2011 budget benefited from the use of $3.4 in one time federal 'stimulus' funds, most of which went to ongoing spending programs.
"[F]iscal stewardship does not take a break," Huebsch said. "As state agencies prepare their biennial budget requests, we will ensure that agencies continue to be fiscally responsible, while providing the best possible services to our citizens."
Meanwhile, the US Treasury Department reported Tuesday that the national debt had topped $16 trillion.
The new Wisconsin revenue figures are $320 million more than the February estimate by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
"Our budget reforms have paid off for the state," Vos said. "We held the line on taxes and curbed government spending. Wisconsin is now in better financial shape because of it."
The Department of Revenue includes this boilerplate explanation at the end of their press release: The Wisconsin figures are unaudited and subject to final review by the State Controller's Office prior to the publication of the Department of Administration's Annual Fiscal Report to be released October 15, 2012. Additionally, the Legislative Audit Bureau performs an audit of the State's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which is published in December of each year. These collections do not offer guidance on the budget balance for FY12. Other general purpose revenues and the final general purpose revenue expenditures will have substantial bearing on the final budget balance.