Over at Folkbum's Rambles and Rants, Jay Bullock mentions all there is to be impressed with in the state's budget. I agree that the budget could have been a heck of a lot worse than the one signed back on June 29, but that doesn't mean that there is anything to be impressed with.
In the comments, Jay wants some specifics about what conservatives would have done differently. No one there seems to want to take him up on the offer - and Republicans in the legislature didn't offer a lot of specifics - so I'm going to offer a few now.
First, freeze all spending. We should have started from the assumption - escpecially knowing that we would take the stimulus money - that we would not increase total spending unless absolutely necessary. Right there we eliminate $3.6 billion of the $6.6 billion dollar deficit.
From there, we should have audited every state program and eliminated the redundant or unnecessary programs and initiatives. Case in point, we should suspend the state's stewardship program for the time being, saving $120 million over the biennium. We should also eliminate the "rainy day fund" - or statutory balance - for this budget because it is most definitely raining. That move would save another $130 million. Another option is selling off the state-run Dept. of Corrections farms, or even updating communication technology in the legislature would save millions per year (I did a report on it while a legislative intern and it would save quite a bit. I just can't remember the exact number off hand.) There are, I'm certain, many other programs that could be eliminated in addition to these, but these are just a few that leap to mind.
After eliminating - or suspending, I'm willing to leave open the idea that we could bring some of the programs back when the economy recovers - the unnecessary items from the budget, I would then see what we can do with the stimulus money in order to plug the rest of the budget deficit. Obviously, it would depend on if any strings were attached to the federal money or if it was earmarked for certain purposes. However, I would concentrate the spending on the areas that need it in a recession; those areas being unemployment funds, infrastructure construction and worker training programs.
I understand that ultimately taxes may need to be increased to balance a budget. It is a reality of government spending that many are unwilling to admit, but that does not mean that we have to do it. Until we have gone through and eliminated as much waste as possible we can't say that we have to raise taxes. We need to see if we have too much government first. And of course we have too much.
Along those lines, Bullock is very careful to say that the budget doesn't raise taxes on individuals - unless you are in the top 1% of earners - so that's a big victory. Not really. This budget raises nearly $2 billion in taxes and fees. Most of them on businesses but many will still affect individuals and affect those least able to pay more to the government - you know, the poor, the people liberals love to say they are helping.
It is also important to note that the increased taxes on businesses will ultimately reach consumers and cause higher prices for us in the long run. In a way we're going to pay for the tax no matter what.
There are many other things that we should have done in terms of reform. We need to look at school funding reform and health care reform and corrections reform. Not only to save money, but to make these areas work better and more efficiently. That said, they shouldn't necessarily put it in the budget and pass stand-alone reform bills so that it isn't glossed over in a giant omnibus bill.
This would have been the right way to go about writing the budget. I would have fought for it and I wish that the GOP leadership in the legislature would have pushed for it at all. Your average Cheesehead knows that if you've got a budget problem, you sit down and cut out the stuff you don't absolutely need. It would be refreshing to see elected officials do the same thing.