Sen. Darling Asks for Budget Feedback

Feb. 12, 2009

Job One of the just-begun 2009-2010 legislative session is tackling the state budget and its deficit. While many details about the budget will remain up in the air for a bit, I’m gathering input from my constituents in the meantime.

The first unknown is how any potential “stimulus package” from the federal level will impact the state budget. Governor Jim Doyle is slated to deliver his budget to the legislature on February 10th, but there are rumors that date might be pushed back depending on what the U.S. Congress does. Whatever happens, we must remember two things. First, a one-time federal bailout won’t solve bad budgeting practices made at the state level. Second, this won’t be money from the federal government, it will be from taxpayers – and “free” money from the federal government often comes with strings attached.

The second unknown is just how big the budget deficit is. Governor Doyle says the shortfall is $5.4 billion, and that figure has been widely reported. However, that number includes $2.76 billion in brand new spending requests from various state agencies. If the legislature can manage to just say NO to all that new spending, the budget deficit can be cut in half just like that. Rest assured I will use my position on the legislature’s budget-writing committee to rein in government spending.

The final thing we don’t know yet about this budget is how many tax increases it will contain. The Governor has already floated several multi million-dollar tax hike trial balloons. Legislative Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, have several even-bigger tax hike plans of their own. Middle class families and small businesses are already having a hard time. A laundry list of punishing tax hikes would be just the sort of thing that could turn a recession into a depression. I will continue to forcefully oppose the Democrats’ many new high tax proposals.

The silver lining in all this is that bad budget times can force government spending reform. I look forward to the challenge before us. As always, I welcome your ideas.

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