Boots & Sabers

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2136, 20 Jun 21

What to do with a surplus?

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week. I’m glad to see that the legislative Republicans were of the same mind as they pushed a $3.4 billion tax cut into the budget.

A new estimate from Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) shows that Wisconsin state government will collect billions of dollars in taxes above their original estimates. The political wrangling between Republicans and Democrats over this unexpected windfall reveals the yawning divide between the political camps.


Whenever the state legislature crafts a budget, they must estimate the taxes that the state will collect. As the national and state economy changes and actual collections are counted, the LFB periodically updates these estimates to inform the Legislature. In January, the LFB issued an estimate for general fund tax collections and made adjustments to them when various state and national laws were passed changing the tax laws.


As the state nears the end of the current budget and fiscal year, the LFB prepared its most recent estimate that records “unprecedented” tax collections through May of this year and forecasts that for the time period encompassing the remainder of this fiscal year and the 20212023 biennium will exceed previous estimates by almost $4.5 billion.


To put it another way, the state of Wisconsin is projecting to collect the equivalent of $762 more in taxes from every man, woman, and child in Wisconsin than what they thought they would collect a few months ago. While politicians welcome this unexpected surplus, the people actually paying the taxes do not share their joy.


Democrats throughout Wisconsin are championing ways to spend the projected tax surplus on more and bigger government. Democrat Governor Tony Evers and legislative Democrats are pushing to pump more money into thinks like the government education system, transportation, welfare, and the normal litany of liberal priorities.


Meanwhile, Republicans in the Legislature are championing ways to cut taxes to ensure that the projected surplus never materializes. With the philosophy that it is the people’s money, Republicans are exploring how to make sure that the people never send the money to the state coffers in the first place.


The difference in philosophy is stark. Democrats see record tax collections as free money to spend. It is as if they won the lottery and the only question is how they will spend their good fortune. Republicans, for the most part, see record tax collections as evidence that the government is confiscating too much from the people and they should cut taxes to make sure that the government does not over collect.


Both parties must remember that an estimate is just that: an estimate. The LRB gave an estimate in January that said one thing. Six months later, they have calculated another estimate based on what has changed since January. In that short time, the estimate went up dramatically based on actual tax collections and an improved economic forecast. An estimate is as good as it can be the day it is written, but change by the next morning.


Things change. Economies slip into recessions. War, or the threat of war, can change the economy. Trade policies impact some areas of the economy more than others. Key Wisconsin industries may be disrupted. When politicians make decisions to spend money that is not actually in the bank, they are obligating taxpayers to spend that money whether the projected surplus materializes or not.

The other economic wild card that is rearing its head in Biden’s America is a potential return to double-digit inflation. The trillions of printed dollars spewing out of Washington are having the unavoidable effect of devaluing the dollar. It is a simple principle. If the government is printing currency faster than the underlying economy can absorb it, the value of each dollar decreases. This inflation hits the lower and middle classes the hardest as they see the price of normal goods and services increase faster than their incomes. Inflation has been increasing at the fastest rate in decades and does not show any sign of slowing.


As Democrats salivate over spending a projected tax surplus, the families paying for that surplus will also be having their budgets squeezed by raging inflation. It is a budgetary pincer that will squeeze the middle class at a time when the middle class is just recovering from a pandemic.


The decisions for the Legislature should be a very simple one. If the state collects more taxes than it planned to, then give it back to the people who paid it. They should not redistribute it to people who did not pay the taxes and they should not spend it on things that make politicians feel good about themselves.


Just give it back. It’s not yours.


2136, 20 June 2021


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