Budget Repair Bill “Lite” – Democrats look to offer amendments that really balance the budget

The Legislature is back to work today on the revised “Budget Repair Bill”, this version taking up only the fiscal portion of the plan. The rest, including collective bargaining and changes in Medicaid are being held up by Judge Sumi’s Restraining Order. Here is the bill synopsis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau:

http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lfb/2011-13Bills/2011_04_01_SSSB12_SSAB13.pdf

This is a fairly brief document, but it contains some important points that Democrats in the Senate and Assembly will be offering amendments to, or outright opposing. After speaking with Senator Erpenbach and Rep. Barca’s offices this morning, it is apparent they will be focusing on three key components of this bill. These actions are identical to positions they took during initial debate on the bill-confirming that the Republican stand on Act 10 had nothing to do with balancing the budget. In fact, the amendments being offered today by Democrats would balance the budget without affecting any critical services to the people of Wisconsin.

1. Refinancing the debt – This is a done deal. everyone agrees this is the responsible thing to do, and is included in Act 11, SB12, AB13.

2. Reallocation of Group Employee Benefit Reserves – This will be opposed by Democrats on the basis of it being a (presumed) segregated fund-which Republicans promised not to raid. Employees pay in a percentage of their salary to this fund, which has a surplus of $90million, to reduce costs of group health insurance. In reality, this should be an untouchable fund – since it is a segregated fund paid for with employee monies. The effect of this could raise costs of prescription drugs to employees under this plan, and is unnecessary to balance the budget – based on the next item. If this item remains in the budget, expect more legal challenges to the raiding of this employee-based fund.

3. Reduce Authorization for DOA to Lapse or Transfer Funds to the General Fund – In 2007, the DOA was authorized in the budget to transfer surplus funds from Executive and DOA monies to the General Fund. To be clear – this is existing surplus money, leftover from the budgets of the Executive Branch and DOA, that can be used to transer money to the General Revenue Fund. The amount – $79 million. That is sufficient to balance the annual budget as reported by the LFB (see pg. 4 – “Effect on General Fund Balance $75.037 million). Again – this would create a fiscal “tool” (since Walker so loves that term) to balance the budget without eliminating necessary services.

The Barca office suggested I call the Governor’s office and ask why item 3, above, would not be compromised. I am still awaiting a response. I also called Senator Ellis and Representative Fitzgerald with the same inquiry – at the time of this writing, the Republicans are in caucus. I await a response and will update when available. The actions of the Republicans today, ELECTION DAY, will be telling and should be remembered for a long time. If this debate is truly about balancing the budget – it is clear we have the revenue to do it – then this bill modification will be sufficient. A modest tax increase on the top 2% wage earners (or continuation of Capital Gains tax) would give us a surplus, and put the state on solid fiscal ground. The Republicans should be called on to do the fiscally responsible thing, and not follow Governor Walker off the ideological cliff. If they can see the difference. We can save Medicaid, BadgerCare, Senior Care, Education, etc. without sacrificing the working middle and lower class. Or we can continue this dangerous ideological movement toward a single party system, and corporate dominance of legislative policies.

You still have a voice. Vote.

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