More Conservative Economics Failure: Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Sees 28% Deficit Jump

I’ve written frequently about the abject failures of the Brownback administration in Kansas, showcasing not only the immorality but also the practical incompetence of conservative economic theory applied.

Scott Walker has also famously been failing in Wisconsin, where the state’s economy has been in a tailspin as a result of his disastrous policies. Yesterday’s news brings yet yet another reminder:

When a state report is released late on a Friday with no fanfare, it’s a pretty good bet the report contains bad news. A case in point is Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for 2015, which was quietly posted online last Friday afternoon by the Dept. of Administration. In this instance the bad news is that the state’s General Fund deficit, as measured by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), increased in fiscal year 2015 by $414 million (from roughly $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion).

Release of the report had been expected about a week earlier. I don’t know what caused the delay until Friday (Dec. 18), but I can’t help wondering if the quiet posting of the report on a Friday afternoon was intended to minimize media coverage. If so, the strategy was very effective. With the exception of this brief Wisconsin Public Radio story, I’m not aware of any press coverage of the jump in the GAAP deficit, which is a fiscal development that runs counter to the majority party’s narrative that they have been steadily reducing that deficit. (You can also read more about the report in this blog post by “Jake Formerly of the LP.”)

As Paul Krugman would be quick to point out, this deficit is not the result of overspending, but rather economic malaise directly caused by Scott Walker’s doctrinaire economic theories that have weakened job protections, confidence and consumer demand.

But true to form, Wisconsin Republicans are reacting to the situation not by fixing what they broke, but by proposing a balanced budget amendment that would only make the situation much, much worse:

A proposal introduced in the legislature in late September would amend the Wisconsin Constitution to require the budget to be balanced each year on the basis of GAAP, rather than on a cash accounting basis. That proposal (Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 55 and its Assembly companion, AJR 66) would not only prohibit the adoption of a budget that causes or increases a GAAP deficit, but would also create constitutional standards for reducing the deficit in each state fund.

Balanced budget amendments, of course, are an awful idea that tie governments into straitjackets, preventing them from engaging in deficit spending precisely when it is most needed to offset private sector economic downturns. Conservatives believe in a magic market fairy dust in which government can only distort an economy that would otherwise thrum with perfect efficiency in its absence, and in which the greatest dangers are inflation and deficits, rather than the real threats posed by deflation, high inequality and weak consumer demand.

It’s not just an immoral worldview. It’s a failure at a practical level as well. Kansas and Wisconsin are proving that fact every day.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.