Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wisconsin and Washigton: : Same budget problem, different response?

Washington state is often compared to Wisconsin. Both states have comparable populations, income levels and a similar rural/urban divide. Wisconsin too is struggling with a huge budget deficit. State revenues in April 2009 are 35% below collections one year ago. Washington's decline is a bit less.

After finishing my last piece of walleye at the fish fry last night, I picked up a copy of the Milwaukee Sentinel and got a pretty good idea of how they might be different.

The State Assembly yesterday began moving a budget that includes a new tax bracket of 7.75% for those individuals with income over $225,000 and couples over $300,000. The budget includes a cigarette tax hike of 80 cents a pack and a new tax on oil companies that raises a quarter of a million dollars. These are all ideas that were considered in Washington but perhaps blocked by Initiative 960.

They also made some bigger cuts. State workers not only were denied COLAs and steps but the assembly budget would cut pay by requiring 8 furlough days per year.

Perhaps the new taxes made the difference, but what most important divergence was how Wisconsin handled access to health care at a time where unemployment is over 9% and private health care coverage is declining. The assembly budget will increase access to their health care plan by 100,000 people. Similar plans have been proposed by the Governor and the State Senate. Meanwhile, in the State Senate they continue to labor away on comprehensive health care reform.

The whole thing isn't cooked yet but they seem now to be going down a different path.

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