Wisconsin State Journal: Footnote: What’s the difference between the budget repair bill and the biennial budget?

March 19, 2011- The State Journal's Footnote will try to explain the often heard, but perhaps not widely understood, phrases, ideas and controversies in the news. It runs weekly on Sundays.

Q: For weeks, news reports focused on Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill. Then, on March 1, Walker released his biennial budget proposal. What is the difference between the two?

A: The budget repair bill is for the current two-year budget cycle, which ends June 30.

The state, unlike the federal government, must balance its budget by the end of each biennial period, said Dennis Dresang, a UW-Madison professor emeritus of political science and public affairs.

The revenue and spending projections upon which the current budget is based were made in the fall of 2008, and the budget took effect July 1, 2009.

"Not surprisingly, projections made more than two years ago were off — in this case it was primarily that revenues were lower than forecast," Dresang said. "So, we need to balance the current budget."

Walker had a number of options, Dresang said, including instituting a hiring freeze, temporarily laying off state workers, levying a temporary surtax, requiring across-the-board agency spending cuts or delaying the payment of some money the state owes until after July 1. Instead, Walker chose a budget repair bill that restructures state debt and decreases public employee compensation.

The Senate and Assembly have passed — and Walker has signed — the part of the budget repair bill that decreases public employee compensation and limits collective bargaining rights. The Legislature still must act on other parts of the budget repair bill, including the debt restructuring.

Simultaneously, work now has begun on the next biennial budget bill, which will address taxing and spending that is yet to come — in this case, beginning July 1, 2011, Dresang said.


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