February 21, 2008

WIN Plan

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

As many of you know, our state is going to run a sizable budget deficit this year.  The Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently projected that Wisconsin will come up short of its budget goal by $652 million.  The shortfall is the result of a decrease in estimated tax collections, a decrease in departmental revenues, and an increase in state expenditures.

Put simply: Wisconsin is in for some rough times ahead.  If there is a silver lining, though, it’s that the impending deficit has put a greater emphasis on the economy.  Men and women from all walks of life—from government, to private business, to blue-collar workers, and so on—are finally coming together to address the problems underlying our current economic troubles.

That sort of public-private cooperation is exactly what’s needed right now.  Solving the budget mess is not something government can do alone.  And it’s not something business can do it alone.  Eliminating $652 million in deficit spending is going to require both government savings and private sector expansion.  One without the other will only get us part way to a solution.

We’re already cutting back on government spending by changing the way government allocates certain fees and by rolling over short-term borrowing.  It’s estimated that those two moves, alone, will save over $236 million.

Of course, that still leaves more than $415 million to go to erase our state’s budget deficit.  Inevitably, some of that money will be made up by delaying implementation of certain programs.  What those programs are, and exactly how their budgets will be affected are subjects to be debated in the coming months.

These are short-term solutions.  They might help us out of our current bind, but they won’t affect the economy or our state’s spending habits.  To protect ourselves from further budget struggles, we have to focus on the bigger picture: Strengthening our economy and reigning in inefficient spending.

The Senate Democrats have introduced a plan to do just that.  It’s called Wisconsin Invests Now (WIN) and it focuses on putting tax dollars to work in projects that put Wisconsinites to work.  The WIN plan provides millions of dollars to expand training programs for welding and manufacturing positions.  It ensures that technical colleges will have the money they need to quickly train people for the good-paying, family supporting jobs that businesses are currently looking to fill.  It invests in transportation, simultaneously creating thousands of new jobs and improving our state’s economic infrastructure.  And it provides funding for development of renewable energy resources, so that Wisconsin can become the Silicon Valley of the renewable energy revolution.

The point of the program is to put Wisconsin to work immediately.  It will produce thousands of quality jobs in just a few months, giving the economy a much-needed boost.  And, by investing in projects like wind power and biodiesel fuel production, it ensures that many of the jobs it creates will be around for generations to come.

There’s an ongoing debate about the wisdom of deficit spending.  After all, the state’s already overdrawn.  On some level, spending more money is counterintuitive.

But if our businesses remain sluggish and our workers keep getting laid off or stuck in underpaid jobs, then no amount of budget trimming will save us from future deficits. In both the long- and short-term, the solution to our state’s budget problems lies in increasing revenue.  That’s only going to happen if we create more jobs and grow our businesses.  Doing so will require a cooperative effort; government and business working together to redevelop our once-thriving economy.  With discipline, confidence, and, yes, a little belt-tightening, I know we can make it happen.