It seems there’s a lesson yet to be learned by state budget writers. Revenues are down from earlier estimates, driven largely by a decrease in cigarette tax collections. Dale Knapp is with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. “The lesson coming out of that is – one, these things are hard to predict, so it’s preferable to keep some sort of balance, a rainy day fund in case the projections are wrong. And two, we’ve not done that,” says Knapp.
That’s despite the fact that Wisconsin has had a requirement for a “rainy day fund” on the books for more than a decade. “It’s really the cumulation of ten to fifteen years of various gimmicks and tricks to try to balance the budget, rather than face things head on and say “okay, let’s keep some sort of a cushion here,”‘ says Knapp. When the current recession began, says Knapp, states which had a rainy day fund were in a better position to deal with that. In 2008, early in the last recession, Arkansas and Wisconsin had the smallest budget reserves of any states.
State statute stipulates a two percent set aside in annual appropriations to be held in reserve – something that’s never been achieved. Knapp says indications are the state could find itself back in deficit by the middle of 2013. “We still have no cushion, and as the economy turns a little bit again, we’re seeing difficult times ahead,” says Knapp.