Wisconsin state budget shortfall projected to be $2.2 billion by mid-2017



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MADISON, Wisconsin — Gov. Scott Walker's administration said Thursday that Wisconsin faces a $2.2 billion budget shortfall by mid-2017, a problem that will have to be tackled by the Republican-controlled Legislature next year as Walker builds his resume for a potential presidential run and looks to deliver on a campaign promise to cut taxes.

The estimate from the state Department of Administration is the first to take into account spending requests made by state agencies for the next two years.

"The numbers put out today show what it would cost to fund everyone's wish list," Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement. "The reality is that's not going to happen."

Those requests will be pared down significantly in the budget Walker releases in early 2015. From there, the Legislature will refine Walker's plan before passing it sometime around June. Walker has said he wants to be aggressive in passing the budget faster, and noted this week his timeframe for deciding on a White House bid will be dictated in part by the budget passage.

The current shortfall estimate shows the state faces a $132 million shortfall that must be plugged by the end of June. The estimate for the next two years will be further refined in January when the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau releases likely figures for state tax revenue in the next two years.

Walker's spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the shortfall will be addressed through "continued prudent management of agency resources," but didn't offer specifics.

Walker won re-election two weeks ago on the promise of cutting property taxes, a pledge that will be more difficult to achieve given the looming shortfall. Just last week, the Department of Transportation proposed a budget that would increase taxes and fees $751 million over the next two years, a request that Walker said will be changed significantly.

Walker also promised to expand the state's private school voucher program, a potentially costly step depending on how much he loosens the enrollment cap that currently sits at 1,000 students.

State agencies asked for a 4.8 percent increase in general fund support the first year and 6 percent in the second. That includes the tax and fee increases from the Transportation Department as well as nearly $700 million additional for schools asked for by the Department of Public Instruction.

Vos said Republicans will be focused on cutting government waste and fraud and eliminating duplicative services.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald also didn't offer any specifics on how the shortfall will be solved, other than saying lawmakers will be "good stewards of Wisconsin's finances and practice sound fiscal management."

Democratic Sen. Jennifer Shilling, the incoming Senate minority leader, said a different approach is needed.

"Rather than digging a deeper budget hole, we need to invest in education, worker training and economic infrastructure to create jobs and build toward a brighter future," she said in a statement.

But Democrats don't have enough votes to stop what Republicans want. The GOP increased their majorities in this year's election, with a 63-36 majority in the Assembly and a 19-14 advantage in the Senate for the session that begins in January.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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