The Devil We Know
June 30, 2009 10:45 AM
There's an old saying that the devil you know is better than the one you don't. That applies to the state budget signed yesterday. It's ugly, but at least we know what we've got to deal with.
I went over to the Governor's Mansion yesterday to watch Jim Doyle sign the state budget. The first thing to notice about this was that it happened yesterday. June 29th. This is the first time since I was a senior in high school that the state budget has been passed on schedule - actually a few days before it was due on July 1st.
This is not a small accomplishment. In California the state treasurer is ready to issue Monopoly money instead of real checks. In New York they can't even agree on which party controls the state senate, much less a spending plan. So, give our state legislature and our governor some credit. They solved the worst deficit in the state's history and got it done with days to spare.
Now it's time for me to get to work. Our City budget process starts in two weeks when I issue my budget guidelines to our City agencies. Then my budgeting starts in earnest in August and September with my capital budget due around Labor Day and my operating budget due to the council the first Tuesday in October.
While the early passage of the state budget has given us more certain numbers to work with, those numbers are stark. We'll know more when we see the final budget details, but it looks like we'll be getting about $2 million less from the state then last year. I'm not complaining about this. In the deepest recession since the Great Depression there will be some pain, and I don't believe that Madison has been spared any of it or gotten any special considerations. We're shouldering our share, no more or less. But it'll be the toughest budget I've seen in my seven attempts. Just as the state needed some sacrifice from everyone, we'll need that at the local level as well.
I was happy to see two provisions in the budget. First, the budget signed by the governor allows us to create a regional transit authority, a goal of mine and much of the region for a decade. The governor vetoed a requirement for a binding referendum before an additional sales tax can be imposed, but County Executive Kathleen Falk and I have already promised one. We're good to our word. There will be a referendum before a sales tax under the RTA law happens regardless of the veto of the requirement.
The budget also solves a long debate over the taxation of property owned by nonprofit low-income housing providers. If the state hadn't acted, we would have been forced to send sizable property tax bills to traditionally exempt housing providers. The result could have been more homeless people. But the governor and the legislature acted to fix the legal glitch that caused the problem and the crisis was averted.
One of the big reasons that these issues were addressed and that Madison was treated fairly in the funding formulas was that the Joint Finance Committee is chaired by two fair-minded and respected Madison-area legislators, Sen. Mark Miller and Rep. Mark Pocan. They did a great job in a tough situation.