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As Gov. Scott Walker travels the country in his not-quite-formal-presidential bid, Democrats in Wisconsin complain he’s neglecting the state.
That criticism extends to the 2015-’17 state budget, which will soon be up for votes in the Assembly and Senate.
Democrats (and a few Republicans) have complained about a variety of matters in the budget, and said the package was poorly prepared. Such complaints were raised in a news release issued the day before work on the budget began in the Joint Finance Committee.
The Democrats on the committee complained that lawmakers were given a "last minute error document" that ran 110 pages.
"Drafting errors may happen, but I highly doubt that 110 pages and millions of dollars’ worth of mistakes and unintended consequences are anything but the product of an extremely distracted Governor not putting his home state first," state Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) said in a news release issued by the Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee.
Is Taylor right?
Did Walker’s budget have an unusual number of budget corrections that were cleaned up in the final hours?
How the process works
Such last-minute correction documents are not new. They even have a formal bureaucratic name -- an "errata report."
Like past governors, Walker issued his budget in February of 2015. The document itself runs 1,800 pages, with most of it being highly technical in nature.
The errata report is a document that corrects mistakes identified between the time when the budget is announced and when the Legislature begins its work.
In April 2013, during the last state budget cycle, the Walker Administration sent lawmakers an errata report fixing about a dozen items and recommending eight amendments. A March 15, 2013 memo corrected 61 more items, all of which appeared to be very technical.
In Walker’s first budget, for 2011-’13, similar memos corrected about 40 items.
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s final budget included about 75 corrections in memos issued in March 2009.
"When you’re dealing with an 1,800 page bill you’re going to find a mistake or two," said Legislative Fiscal Bureau Director Bob Lang, who has been with the agency since 1971. "I don’t recall a budget where there weren’t technical changes."
Department of Administrator spokesman Cullen Werwie said much the same in an email: "Nearly every budget has an errata to make minor and technical changes. This year is no different."
Looking at Walker’s budget
Compared with recent budgets, the errata report from the Department of Administration for the 2015-’17, dated April 15, 2015, budget made more corrections -- about 110 by our count -- than those in the past several budgets.
On April 13, 2015, the Joint Finance Committee received a smaller document with 12 items that needed to be cleaned up.
What about the portion of Taylor’s claim that the changes involved millions of dollars?
The "millions" figure cited corresponds with the April 13 errata memo, which says the changes will decrease the state’s general fund balance by $2.87 million.
Taylor aide Maggie Gau noted that "millions" also applies to a figure that shows up on page 106 of the April 15 memo.
Walker wanted to move the worker’s compensation division from the Department of Workforce Development to the Officer of the Commissioner of Insurance. The original budget failed to include funding for the workers comp agency for the period leading up to that transition. That added $15.67 million in expense.
Page 52 of the memo said there were another $4.8 million in expense related to "supplies and services" that were not accounted for in the move of the workers compensation division.
That’s at least $20 million in cleaned up mistakes.
Other corrections included in the errata memo were substantial policy changes. Among the corrections:
Walker’s original budget eliminated mention of the Wisconsin Idea as the foundation of the University of Wisconsin System. (Walker claimed at the time that it was a mistake, but records showed the budget drafting staff following directions issued by Walker’s team.) The memo restored the Wisconsin Idea language.
The memo also created a new policy, and proposed capping UW System undergraduate tuition increases at no more than the annual increase in the consumer price index.
Taylor said that Walker’s proposed budget "contained 110 pages and millions of dollars’ worth of mistakes" that were corrected with a follow-up document.
Taylor is right on the number of the tweaks made in the budget and that they affected millions of dollars in the state budget. But such clean-up memos are a routine part of the budget process -- though there were a bit more this time than in the three previous state budgets.
We rate Taylor’s claim Mostly True.
Telephone interview, Robert Lang, Legislative Fiscal Bureau, April 22, 2015
Emails, Cullen Werwie, State of Wisconsin Department of Administration, April 22, 24, 2015
Emails, telephone interview, Maggie Gau, office of Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), May 28, 2015
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