A volley of e-mails, blog posts
and inquiries to reporters followed a Madison Capital Times editorial
on Feb. 16, 2011, that said no state budget deficit exists for 2010-’11 -- or if it does, it’s the fault of Walker and the Republicans in the Legislature.
Liberal MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow joined in Feb. 17
, accusing Walker of manipulating the situation for political gain.
"Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, the state is on track to have a budget surplus this year," she said. "I am not kidding."
She added a kicker that is also making the rounds: Walker and fellow Republicans in the Legislature this year gave away $140 million in business tax breaks -- so if there is a deficit projected of $137 million, they created it.
Maddow and others making the claim all cite the same source for their information -- a Jan. 31, 2011 memo prepared by Robert Lang
, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau
It includes this line: "Our analysis indicates a general fund gross balance of $121.4 million and a net balance of $56.4 million."
We were curious about claims of a surplus based on the fiscal bureau memo.
In writing it when it was released, reporters from the Journal Sentinel
and Associated Press
had put the shortfall at between $78 million and $340 million. That’s the projection for the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2011.
Walker himself has settled on $137 million as the deficit figure, a number reporters have adopted as shorthand.
We re-read the fiscal bureau memo, talked to Lang, consulted reporter Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison Bureau, read various news accounts and examined the issue in detail.
Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong.
Here’s the bottom line:
There is fierce debate over the approach Walker took to address the short-term budget deficit. But there should be no debate on whether or not there is a shortfall. While not historically large, the shortfall in the current budget needed to be addressed in some fashion. Walker’s tax cuts will boost the size of the projected deficit in the next budget, but they’re not part of this problem and did not create it.
We rate Maddow’s take False.