State budget delay wastes $17 million

    The one and only thing state legislators absolutely, positively have to do every two years is pass a state budget. The job is supposed to be done by July 1. Wisconsin is now the only state in the country with a July 1 budget deadline that does not have a new budget in place.

    Both houses of the Legislature passed differing versions of the budget in late July,and legislative leaders have been involved in a highly partisan staredown ever since.

    It’s been said there is little if any real damage caused if state lawmakers are late in finishing work on a new state budget.

    Tell that to the college students who don’t know if they will receive any student aid. Tell it to the schools, towns, villages and cities that have to set their property tax levies and still do not know how much state aid to expect and therefore are clueless about how much of their costs they will have to ask property taxpayers to foot.

    If the budget stalemate continues for just a few more days, homeowners and businesses in Wisconsin face a $600 million increase in their property taxes. If that happens, try telling your average property owner that it doesn’t matter when the Legislature passes a state budget.

    If the budget impasse is not resolved soon, it will affect the state’s bond rating, and Wisconsin will pay more to borrow money for government projects than would otherwise be necessary.

    The cost of political paralysis at the Capitol doesn’t stop there. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has calculated how much taxpayer money has been wasted because of the state budget stalemate that has left the Legislature paralyzed and incapable of doing any meaningful work on other pressing issues.

    It’s cost us $17.2 million for the Legislature to accomplish nothing since its deadline for completing work on the budget came and went.

    That’s over $188,000 a day that’s been blown on salaries, fringe benefits and other costs to operate the Legislature while lawmakers have failed to do a job they were supposed to complete by July 1.

    The Legislature’s failure to agree on a budget also comes at the expense of dozens of other legislative proposals that have been idling. One legislative veteran says the Assembly has only been in session 14 days this year.

    At the same time, plenty of fundraising has been getting done. Legislative leaders on the conference committee as well as rank and file lawmakers have been holding fundraisers in bulk during the months-long budget delay to milk special interests with a stake in the two-year policy and spending proposal.

    They are making Wisconsin a laughing stock. They are embarrassing us. And even if they can’t see it, they are embarrassing themselves.
    Mike McCabe is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks the money in state politics, fights government corruption and works for campaign finance reform and other pro-democracy reforms. For additional information, visit

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