Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Doyle's Federal Spending Amnesia

One of Governor Jim Doyle’s key talking points against challenger Mark Green has been Green’s supposed fiscal irresponsibility as a member of Congress. In a television ad currently running, Doyle paints himself as a responsible budgeter, while Congress has been “spending like crazy.”

In the first gubernatorial debate, Doyle tried to hammer this point home:

"This is going to be a lot about how they've done things in Washington compared to how they do them in Madison," said Doyle. "We've balanced our budget . . . as opposed to a federal deficit that has just grown and grown and grown."
In the second debate, Doyle stayed on message:

Doyle twice accused Green of lecturing him, which the governor said was hardto take given what he said was the inability of Congress to balance the federal budget or reform health care. "I've seen Washington fail us over and over," Doyle said.
Set aside, for a moment, the idea that Wisconsin’s budget is actually balanced. State law requires it to be, on a cash basis. So if Doyle hadn’t “balanced” the budget, he’d be breaking the law. Additionally, Doyle’s enormous transfers of one time money and budgeting gimmicks have actually left the state with a $1.5 billion hole to fill in the next budget, when you account for future obligations.

What’s more interesting is Doyle’s sudden aversion to federal spending. When the federal government spends money, a large chunk of that spending goes to the states to fill their budget holes. In the current biennial budget, federal spending makes up 25% of total state spending ($13.5 billion) – primarily for big ticket items like Medical Assistance. If this money were cut, the state would have a huge hole to fill, and Doyle would have to make a decision to either cut senior benefits or raise taxes to pay for them. Somehow, I think he’d just prefer the federal money.

The gods of irony were laughing especially hard this week, when Doyle proposed a brand-new program to provide $4.25 million in increased dental care for kids. And where did Doyle find the money to spend on his pre-election gimmick? That’s right – it’s the same federal money that he complains about when it’s politically expedient. Just last month, Doyle actually tried to play politics with Medicaid money, complaining that Green wasn't spending enough. If Congress hadn’t had an itchy spending finger, Doyle would have to fund his campaign pandering out of pocket.

One needs only to think back to the last couple of state budgets to find Doyle at the federal government’s doorstep with his hand out, begging for more money. In the 2003-05 budget, Doyle relied on a complicated federal billing scheme known as the Intergovernmental Transfer Program to plug a $400 million state budget hole. In the end, it was money that didn't fully materialize. During that budget, Doyle was singing a different tune about federal spending:

In his speech, Doyle promised to fight hard for the additional $408 million - which he needs to pay for future health-care programs.

"Washington is taking its usual position of saying they won't pay," Doyle said. "Democrats and Republicans are in this together, and we all need to make Wisconsin's taxpayers get their fair share under the law."

Doyle plans to bill the federal government for the past three years of Medicaid costs, hoping to draw $580 million more in federal funds, since Washington pays 60% of the program. After costs of the deal are subtracted, Doyle said state government would net $408 million more.

Incidentally, I eagerly anticipate Doyle criticizing Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin for Congress “spending like crazy.” A brief look at Baldwin’s press releases shows how proud she is of all the spending she brings back to Madison. In fact, at a recent Wispolitics.com lunch event, Baldwin openly bragged that she just topped the $150 million mark in bringing resources back to her district (click here and fast forward to the 10:15 mark). Surely, an aggressive federal deficit hawk like Doyle would disapprove of such reckless spending increases.

Isn't Doyle criticizing Green for federal spending increases a little like being angry at your pimp for buying a new pinky ring? Doyle is dependent on the billions of dollars the federal government sends him to make his budget whole. Rather than criticize Green, who as one of 535 members of Congress really doesn’t have much say over federal spending levels, maybe Doyle should actually be thanking him for the cash. Without it, how else would Doyle run his campaign?