State Capitol

The state will have $282 million less than previously projected — but still a sizable amount of new revenue to spend — for the next state budget, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The state will have about $1.8 billion in new revenue available during the next state budget cycle, bureau director Bob Lang said. The cycle goes from July 2019 through June 2021.

The state also is projected to end the 2018-19 fiscal year in June with a balance of about $692 million in its general fund, according to the fiscal bureau. That’s in addition to the projected $1.8 billion in new future revenue.

Those figures help frame the emerging debate over the next state budget. The newly available revenue projections give Gov. Tony Evers and lawmakers considerable leeway on tax and spending decisions.

Still, the downward revision in projected revenues — based on an economic forecast that real GDP growth will slow in coming years — suggests the state may have less to spend than officials previously thought.

The $282 million decline is for state revenue collected from the present through June 2021. The shift was from November, when the Department of Administration projected that the state would have about $2.1 billion in new revenue available for the 2019-21 budget cycle.

The numbers also are fodder in the debate over whether to retain the state’s controversial tax break for manufacturers and farmers, which Evers wants to sharply curtail but Republicans aim to protect.

GOP leaders of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling, responded to the new figures with a joint statement saying, “Republican reforms delivered $2.4 billion in additional revenue for the next state budget.” That figure includes the $1.8 billion projected for the next two-year cycle plus the ending balance for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

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Nygren and Darling contend the new revenue allows Evers to inherit “the best budget scenario in a generation.” A survey of previous fiscal bureau revenue estimates provided to the Wisconsin State Journal by Nygren’s office indicates it would be the state’s best budget position, heading into a new budget cycle, since 2005.

“As the budget process begins, we look forward to continuing to fund our priorities at historic levels while at the same time cutting taxes for families across Wisconsin,” Nygren and Darling said in the statement.

Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said in a statement that Evers inherits a situation in which many issues are unresolved, such as how to pay for state roads and bridges; or neglected, such as schools, which Baldauff said GOP leaders have underfunded.

“The people of Wisconsin deserve an honest conversation about the challenges facing our state,” Baldauff said.

Baldauff also chided Republicans in the statement for “tax policies that prioritize millionaires instead of working Wisconsin families” — an apparent jab at the tax credit for manufacturers and farmers.

Evers wants to cap the credit and use the new state revenue to offset the cost of a middle-class income-tax cut. Assembly Republicans have proposed a similar tax cut that would be paid for on a one-time basis by state reserves.

Evers also will push hard for a $1.4 billion infusion of new revenue to school districts.

The fiscal bureau expects to revise its projections for state revenues again in May, Lang said.

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