Steven Walters

Final Tally on State Budget

The numbers show some surprising priorities, with spending on health care leading the way.

By - Jun 24th, 2013 10:50 am

If budgets are about priorities, what does the 2013-15 budget drafted by Republicans who control the state Capitol say about state government spending?

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports that the GOP’s two-year spending package totals $70.12 billion, a 4 percent increase from the current biennial budget. That includes state taxes, federal dollars, tuition, fees and all miscellaneous revenues.

It also includes a $650 million two-year income tax cut worth about $158 to the average taxpayer next year and $238 to married taxpayers who file a joint return.

For most people, $70.12 billion is a meaningless number.

More telling is looking at the programs that cost the most, and these nine programs will cost more than $1 billion each by mid-2015.

Health care: $20.32 billion. Change from current two-year budget: +12.3 percent.

Context: One in five Wisconsin residents now gets all or part of his or her health care from the state’s Medicaid program, and that number would have increased if Republicans had accepted the federal government’s offer to pay all costs of adding more low-income adults to Medicaid. The federal government pays 60 percent of Medicaid costs; Wisconsin taxpayers pay 40 percent.

That means: For every $1 state government plans to spend in the two years starting July 1, 29 cents will go to provide or administer health care.

Department of Public Instruction (including K-12 school aids): $12.47 billion. Change from current budget: +3.4 percent.

Context: Although Gov. Scott Walker originally recommended no increase in state aid for public schools, a May report found that tax collections will be $500 million higher by mid-2015. That let lawmakers add increases of $150 per student in each of the next two years. State aid will also be increased for students in charter and private “voucher” schools, which will be expanded with statewide enrollment limits outside Milwaukee and Racine.

That means: For every $1 state government plans to spend in the next two years, 17 cents will go to public and private schools and run the state Department of Public Instruction.

UW System: $11.83 billion. Change from current budget: +1.8 percent.

In February, Walker recommended an additional $180 million for the 26-campus UW System. But legislators, with Walker’s blessing, removed that additional aid and ordered a two-year tuition freeze after learning that the UW System is sitting on a surplus of more than $600 million.

That means: Almost 17 cents out of every $1 state government spends by mid-2015 will be spent by the UW System.

Transportation: $6 billion. Change from current budget: +1.6 percent.

Context: Walker, who is up for re-election next year, and legislators refused to recommend any increase in the $75 annual vehicle registration or the per-gallon gas tax to fix what Department of Transportation officials warn is a looming funding deficit.

That’s why the GOP budget borrows about $1 billion more to pay to rebuild freeways, most of which are in the Milwaukee area. Their logic: Asking generations of future drivers to pay off those loans is appropriate because they will be using the rebuilt Zoo Freeway, Hoan Bridge, and Interstate 39/90 between Illinois and Madison for decades.

That means: Transportation will make up 8.5 cents of every $1 state government spends by mid-2015.

Aids to local government, property tax relief: $4.78 billion. Change from current budget: +0.5 percent.

Context: The attitude of local government officials is, “Whew. We avoided having our state aid cut to pay for the pre-election income tax cut. We’re not happy about it, but we’ll settle for what we are getting in the current budget.”

Department of Corrections: $2.54 billion. Change from current budget: -0.2 percent.

Context: As Wisconsin ages, prison populations drop, even though health care costs for inmates soar.

Department of Children and Families, which administers welfare, foster care and child care support programs: $2.25 billion. Change from current budget: +2.5 percent.

Department of Administration: $1.8 billion. Change from current budget, largely because large amounts of long-term debt were refinanced last year: -23 percent.

Department of Natural Resources, which must review plans for a huge iron mine in northern Wisconsin: $1.15 billion. Change from current budget: +2.5 percent.

One final note: The Republicans’ budget also assumes the number of state government workers will stay about the same—around 69,240—over the next two years. Almost half of them work for the UW System.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email

2 thoughts on “Final Tally on State Budget”

  1. Hereiam says:

    Do you know whether the restrictions on the Milwaukee Streetcar were included in the final budget? I know that it did pass committee, but I did not hear if it made it to the final budget and was signed by the Governor.


  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Hereiam I’m pretty sure it did.

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