For the second time, our elected officials are meeting to see if they can come to agreement on our state’s budget. The last budget bill our governor, senators and assemblymen worked on ended up a day late and dollar short.
Let me rephrase that … nearly 150 days late and now $652 million dollars short.
As early as August of last year, tax experts like Todd Berry from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance were saying the budget our elected officials were working on back then was at least $200 million in the red. And yet, our elected officials deliberated for months on a budget they finalized in late fall only to have our state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau say several months later that it was over $600 million dollars off.
How do independent experts like Berry know we are going to be in a deficit nearly six months before our state’s Fiscal Bureau officially tells our legislature? More importantly, why didn’t our elected officials do something about our spending back in the fall? Instead, we are now back at the drawing board trying to fill more holes in our budget because our elected officials don’t know how stop spending.
Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, holding the line on spending is not a partisan issue, and the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin wants our elected officials
to do just that – hold the line on spending.
According to the Fiscal Bureau, the deficit is over $400 million and ideas like a hospital tax, accounting tricks such as delaying state aid to schools and some spending cuts are all being considered. The state, and more importantly the state taxpayers who will be responsible for the decisions of our elected officials, should demand that we get rid of our deficit in the same way we handle deficits in our own homes – cut spending.
Of all three proposals, the Assembly Republicans cut spending the most (roughly $360 million of spending cuts, compared with roughly $80 million by the governor and only $40 million by the Senate).
While we applaud the Assembly’s efforts to cut spending, it doesn’t go far enough. If our deficit is $415 million, then we should cut spending by $415 million. It is frustrating to see accounting gimmicks used in an effort to balance a budget – like the proposal of delaying state aid to schools. That only pushes the problem of spending too much into a different budget year.
What is really disturbing is the hospital tax proposal found in two of the budget repair bill proposals. Proponents claim the hospital tax will result in higher Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals, which will lower health care costs and all of this is possible because we get free money from the Feds in their federal match of our increased Medicaid payments.
First, who do these politicians think the feds get their money from? Yes, you guessed it, from us taxpayers. It’s not free money, it’s our money. Secondly, do these same politicians want those of us who pay for health care to trust hospitals that they will lower health care costs because they are getting higher Medicaid reimbursement rates?
After the last 10 years of double-digit increases to health care costs, consumers don’t trust anyone, least of all providers who continue to build these extravagant hospitals. There is nothing in this proposal that guarantees hospitals won’t simply pocket the increased reimbursement rates and add to their already large profits.
And let’s be perfectly honest – even if hospitals are required to detail the increased payments and show how those dollars are being used, because we don’t have true transparency of costs, such detailed accounting is meaningless.
If this is our government’s attempt of reforming our Medicaid system, it’s a poor one at best and is certainly a Band Aid approach to what should be a major overhaul of a failing system.
Our elected officials didn’t get the budget right the first time around – let’s hope they get it right this time. It’s up to us, the electorate, to hold our elected officials accountable, since we are the ones financially responsible for their actions.
Bob Collison is a business owner and the current chairman of the Legislative Committee of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin (IBA), the oldest state-based business association concentrating on issues facing small and independent businesses. For additional information, visit www.ibaw.com.