The Legislature’s inability to compromise on key issues leaves one salutary effect in the case of a Noah-level flood or surprise invasion by Wisconsin: The state’s coffers will spill over with a projected $1 billion of unspent money, in addition to another $1.35 billion in reserves.
Much of the legislative session was spent arguing about how to use the state’s projected two-year, $1.9 billion surplus, with House Republicans proposing $2 billion in tax cuts plus new spending on roads and bridges. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL Senate wanted to spend the money mostly on education, while advocating a gas tax hike for a more expansive transportation package.
State government will spend about $41.65 billion during the two years beginning July 1, which is up from $39.72 billion during the previous two years, an increase of 4.85 percent.
Unable to compromise on taxes or transportation, the two sides punted on those two issues until next year because neither was necessary to keep schools, courts, parks and other operations going.
With Dayton vetoing the Legislature’s education funding bill, the complete picture on school funding isn’t clear. But most of the elements of the two-year budget are in place.
Most of the state budget is consumed with educating the state’s children and taking care of vulnerable citizens. The Legislature’s proposed education budget, which Dayton said he will veto, is $17.1 billion overall for the next two years, up from $15.8 billion during the previous two years. That’s an 8 percent increase, though the addition to per-pupil funding is less: 1.5 percent in the first year and 2 percent in the second year, or $200 per pupil. (The difference comes from changes like enrollment increases, required special education funding and the introduction of new programs like all day kindergarten.)
The Department of Human Services budget will grow from $11.6 billion to $12.5 billion over two years, or 7.7 percent, much of that due to the ever-rising cost of health care, including $138 million in new funding for nursing home workers, a priority of both parties.
The remainder of the budget, about $11.5 billion, will be spent on roads, parks, public safety and courts, agriculture programs, environmental and business regulation, universities and job training and all the other tasks of government.
Even once the education funding fight is finished in the coming weeks, both sides will start digging trenches for next year, when legislators will again fight it out for that $1 billion.