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One of Gov. Scott Walker's talking points -- a claim about the size of Wisconsin’s budget stabilization fund -- is striking in seemingly contradictory ways.
Here is how Walker phrased the claim Aug. 3, 2015 at a presidential candidate forum in New Hampshire:
"Our rainy day fund's 165 times bigger than when we first took office."
On one hand, "165 times" sounds like a huge increase. On the other, what was the size of the fund if it could be made 165 times larger?
So let's dig in a little.
That's more than 165 times bigger.
The Wisconsin Legislature created the budget stabilization fund with a 1985 law. No significant deposits were made during the first 20 years of the fund’s existence, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state’s budget scorekeeper. But the 2001-’03 state budget added a requirement that whenever the state budget runs a surplus, 50 percent of the surplus must be transferred to the fund.
So, a governor is required to put money in the rainy day fund whenever there is a surplus; it's not a voluntary act. At the same time, a governor can take some credit for there being a surplus in the first place.
There have been three deposits to the rainy day fund as a result of budget surpluses since Walker took office in January 2011:
Fall 2011: $15 million. That was a result of a surplus in the final budget of Walker’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. (The end of that budget, it should be noted, came at the beginning of Walker's term. So, adjustments and actions in the final six months under Walker helped lead to the surplus.)
Fall 2012: $109 million. While that was the largest deposit to the fund in state history at the time, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, it was only enough to run state government for about three days.
Fall 2013: $153 million.
Those deposits, plus interest earned, put the total in the rainy day fund at $280 million.
In 2014, with another surplus projected, Walker proposed a combination of tax cuts and adding another $117 million to the rainy day fund. But the tax-cut legislation he later signed suspended the required contributions to the fund for the 2013-’15 biennium. (The state's fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.)
Had the requirement remained in effect, it would have meant another $113 million in the rainy day fund. Walker instead used the money instead to help cut taxes.
Still, there’s no question the fund has grown significantly under Walker.
Walker said Wisconsin’s "rainy day fund" is "165 times bigger than when we first took office."
The $280 million currently in the budget stabilization fund is 165 times larger than the $1.68 million when Walker took office. Walker signed a tax cut law in 2014 that contained a provision voiding a requirement that would have put another $113 million into the fund. But that doesn’t change how much larger the fund is..
We rate Walker’s statement True.
(Editor's note: After this item was published, a spokeswoman for Walker's gubernatorial office noted that the budget that resulted in the Fall 2001 contribution overlapped with Walker's time in office. The item has been adjusted to reflect that. It does not change the rating.)
CSPAN, video of Republican presidential candidate forum (quote at 52:50), Aug. 3, 2015
Email exchange, Gov. Scott Walker press secretary Laurel Patrick, Aug. 5, 2015
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Gov. Scott Walker says he has made first back-to-back payments to Rainy Day Fund in state history," (Half True) May 31, 2012
Wisconsin Budget Project, "Of a Surplus of Nearly $1 Billion, Not a Dime is Going to the Rainy Day Fund," Feb. 26, 2014
Email interview, Wisconsin Budget Project research director Jon Peacock, Aug. 5, 2015
Wisconsin Budget Project, "The ironic rise and fall of a budget ‘surplus,’" Oct. 24, 2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State's reserves stronger but still trail other states," Jan. 15, 2015
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker steering $108.7 million of state surplus to rainy day fund," Oct. 15, 2012
Wisconsin Department of Administration, "Annual fiscal report -- 2010 (page 20)," Oct. 15, 2010
Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, budget memo, July 7, 2015
Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, tax cuts memo, Feb. 27, 2014
Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Budget stabilization fund and general fund reserve requirements," January 2015
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Assembly passes Scott Walker’s $505 million tax cut plan," Feb. 11, 2014
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