Reality Check: Debate statements on budget figures differ

Reality Check: Debate statements on budget figures differ
Mary Burke and Scott Walker

The final gubernatorial debate of the 2014 election saw the two candidates for governor offering competing views of recent state budget figures.

Gov. Scott Walker and challenger Mary Burke faced off in Milwaukee Friday night.

“Wisconsin just finished its last fiscal year June 30, 2014, and the numbers came out this week with a $517 million surplus,” Walker said in the debate. “The next state budget will begin with a surplus of $535 million. So that $1.8 billion [deficit] number you hear out there comes from an assumption based on zero growth. That just doesn’t happen.”

News 3 finds this needs clarification.

The state did finish the first year of the budget $517 million in the black, and a projected $1.8 billion deficit at the start of the next budget is based on zero growth.

But that $535 million surplus Walker claims is based on an assumption of zero new spending in the next budget. Republicans asked the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to draw up projections based on five-year average revenue growth and no new spending, leading to that $535 million figure.

But already state agencies have asked for more than $1.1 billion new in funding in the next biennium. Those funds aren’t guaranteed, but it’s unlikely no new spending would be authorized.

“We actually have less of a cash balance than had been projected at this point,” Mary Burke said in the debate Friday. “Also we have a lot of deferred bills. There are UW colleges and universities that are putting building projects on hold in order to inflate this number to make it look better than it is.”

News 3 finds this also needs clarification.

Burke is right that the fiscal year balance is about $200 million lower than was projected. But there’s only one notable deferred bill: A $25 million payment to the transportation fund was not paid in 2014, and will now have to be done in the second year of the budget.

As far as the building projects go, there have been some delayed UW System dorms in Eau Claire and Whitewater, but those delays wouldn’t necessarily affect the budget. Those projects are approved by the state, but student fees pay for them.

If you have an idea for a Reality Check, send it to us at