During a campaign speech in Oskaloosa, Iowa on July 25, 2015, Donald Trump criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a fellow Republican presidential contender. (AP photo) During a campaign speech in Oskaloosa, Iowa on July 25, 2015, Donald Trump criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a fellow Republican presidential contender. (AP photo)

During a campaign speech in Oskaloosa, Iowa on July 25, 2015, Donald Trump criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a fellow Republican presidential contender. (AP photo)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 28, 2015

Donald Trump says that under Scott Walker, Wisconsin budget went from projected surplus to a deficit

On July 25, 2015, the day after news that a Scott Walker ally had called him a "dumb-dumb," Donald Trump delighted in dumping on the Wisconsin governor during a campaign speech in Iowa.

"I read this horrible statement from his fundraiser about Trump. I said, ‘Oh, finally, I can attack,’ " the New York businessman said to laughter in Oskaloosa. "Finally, finally."

Trump -- second to Walker among Republican presidential contenders in an Iowa poll earlier in the week -- criticized him on several fronts. Then he made a claim about the fortunes of Wisconsin’s finances.

"Wisconsin’s doing terribly. First of all, it’s in turmoil," Trump said. "The roads are a disaster because they don’t have any money to rebuild them. They’re borrowing money like crazy. They projected a $1 billion surplus and it turns out to be a deficit of $2.2 billion."

Let’s focus on that last part.

Is Trump right that a projected $1 billion surplus became a $2.2 billion deficit?

Trump is partly on the money, but he’s mixing apples and oranges, and his use of the word deficit is problematic.

The rules

By law, Wisconsin’s two-year budgets must be balanced -- revenue equalling expenditures.

So, unlike the federal government, Wisconsin can never run an actual budget deficit by borrowing money that piles up as debt.

That being said, the state does various projections of what revenues and expenditures will be for the upcoming two-year budget cycle. Those projections can show a surplus or a deficit -- although "deficit" is more accurately termed a projected shortfall, since there is no actual red ink.

Trump’s campaign didn’t respond to our requests for evidence to back his claim.

Featured Fact-check

But the two figures he cited were projections that received plenty of attention when they were made. And we have dealt with them repeatedly in the past.

The two figures

In January 2014, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected Wisconsin would see a surplus of about $1 billion by June 30, 2015 -- the end of the 2013-’15 budget cycle. At the time, revenues were coming in higher than expected.

Walker and the GOP-run Legislature adopted a series of tax cuts later in 2014, making good on a Walker promise to return such surpluses to taxpayers, but drawing criticism for not using the money for other purposes, such as boosting the state’s rainy day fund.

Along the way, however, tax collections grew at a slower pace than had been projected.  

By November 2014, there was a reversal of fortune: Walker’s own Department of Administration projected a $2.2 billion shortfall for 2015-’17.

Once again, that figure was not an actual deficit. Indeed, even as a projected shortfall it was overstated.

That’s because the standard for projections made in the months leading up to the next budget cycle is to include all the funding requests made by state agencies -- even though, in reality, those requests always get trimmed. That serves to temporarily inflate the actual picture.

In the end, the 2015-’17 budget approved by the Legislature and signed by Walker in July 2015 was balanced -- just as every other Wisconsin state budget is.

Our rating

Mixing apples and oranges, Trump said that under Walker, Wisconsin "projected a $1 billion (budget) surplus and it turns out to be a deficit of $2.2 billion."

There was in early 2014 a projection of a $1 billion surplus heading into the 2015-’17 budget period. Late in 2014, there was a projection of a $2.2 billion shortfall -- the difference between expected revenues and the amount of money being requested by state agencies. But the shortfall was never a deficit -- and some of the surplus was consciously spent by Republicans, as tax cuts.

For a statement that contains only an element of truth and ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, our rating is Mostly False.

Our Sources

YouTube, video of Donald Trump speech (comments on Walker start at 36:30), July 25, 2015

Email exchange, Gov. Scott Walker campaign spokeswoman AshLee Strong, July 27, 2015

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Did Scott Walker flip-flop on how budget shortfalls are measured?" (Full Flop) Feb. 13, 2015

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Gov. Scott Walker says he turned $3.6 billion deficit into a $500 million surplus," (Half True) Nov. 15, 2013

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker says next state budget will begin with $535 million surplus," (False) Oct. 22, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Despite $1 billion surplus, group says Scott Walker raising state deficit while borrowing is at record high," (Mostly False) March 10, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker says $499 million 'structural surplus' is ahead," May 26, 2015

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pocan says Gov. Scott Walker’s estimate of a $3.6 billion state budget deficit is a ‘bogus figure,'" (False) Feb. 25, 2012

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Despite news of $1.8 billion shortfall, Alberta Darling says Wisconsin has $443 million surplus," (Half True) Sept. 11, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Occupy Democrats group says Wisconsin is 'dead broke' due to actions by Scott Walker, GOP," (Pants on Fire) July 6, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State revenue for next budget $2.2 billion short of spending requests," Nov. 20, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Scott Walker’s tax cut plan passes Senate, likely to become law," March 4, 2014

Associated Press, "Wisconsin budget surplus hits $977 million," Jan. 16, 2014

Associated Press, "Republican presidential contender Scott Walker has a glaring weakness," April 3, 2015

Interview, Wisconsin Budget Project director Jon Peacock, July 27, 2015

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, memo to Joint Finance Committee chairs, Jan. 16, 2014

Wisconsin Department of Administration, memo on agency budget requests and revenue estimates, Nov. 20, 2014

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Kertscher

Donald Trump says that under Scott Walker, Wisconsin budget went from projected surplus to a deficit

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up