Politifact and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (the Milwaukee Gannett newspaper) need to make up their minds about structural deficits in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Patrick Marley posted on Twitter, “Wisconsin would face $2 billion shortfall at the start of the next budget under Gov. Tony Evers’ plan.”
Wisconsin would face $2 billion shortfall under Gov. Tony Evers’ plan https://t.co/OzRdSJfMjl
— Patrick Marley (@patrickdmarley) April 1, 2019
Seems straightforward enough. The April 1 story by Marley, with the same headline, even makes it clear that the proposed budget will lead to a Gov. Jim Doyle-era structural deficit.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ spending plan would leave the state with a nearly $2 billion gap at the start of the next budget cycle in two years, according to a report Monday by the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.
The gap, known as the structural deficit, would be the largest since former Gov. Jim Doyle approved his last budget a decade ago amid the fallout from the Great Recession.
The gap in Evers’ budget would be more than twice the size of the $865 million one from two years ago, when Republicans controlled all of state government.
Sen. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) made the mistake of believing that a conservative can actually quote the newspaper as fact.
Gov. Evers’ proposed budget has massive tax & fee increases, yet he spends even more on his way to a nearly $2 billion deficit. We can’t allow Gov. Evers to create Doyle-like deficits with taxpayer dollars by writing checks that the budget can’t cash.https://t.co/eaByr3P4YT
— Sen. David Craig (@SenDaveCraig) April 2, 2019
Everything in that Twitter post is 100 percent accurate. Evers’ budget raises taxes and his increased spending results in greater spending obligations in future budgets, creating a nearly $2 billion structural deficit. We can debate the relevance of structural deficits, but Craig’s post was exactly what the Journal Sentinel’s Marley reported.
However, the Journal Sentinel’s Politifact team gave Craig a “half-true” rating.
State Sen. David Craig says Evers’ budget creates a nearly $2B deficit, while raising taxes and fees… yes and no.
— PolitiFact Wisconsin (@PolitiFactWisc) April 24, 2019
Mica Soellner, writing for Politifact, points out that the structural deficit is “hypothetical” and that Evers will have to propose a balanced budget for the next budget cycle.
The Department of Administration also includes projections. Its tallies show a potential shortfall of $1.1 billion in 2022 and about $1.9 billion by 2023.
Of course, there are many things that can happen between now and then: The economy may improve more than expected, and bring in more in tax revenues. Or, inflation could be higher than anticipated, making it more expensive to run state government.
In other words, the picture could get better or worse.
In that respect, the structural deficit numbers are hypothetical ones: Evers will again have to submit a balanced budget for the second half of his term.
Soellner never mentions Marley reporting exactly what Craig wrote. In fact, Marley’s name is not mentioned at all. Soellner instead reaches out to a source in Nebraska to support her statement that Craig is “apples-oranges mixing” and accusing the senator of confusing a structural deficit with an actual budget deficit (something unseen since the Doyle era).
That accusation by Soellner would require an incredible amount of telepathic power since Craig and his staff did not cooperate with Politifact. Given Soellner’s inability to read her own newspaper, we can understand Craig’s reluctance. Instead of writing for a newspaper, perhaps Soellner should consider a career as a sideshow mentalist act?
What Soellner also misses is that state budgets themselves are hypothetical when proposed or passed into law. While they may be “balanced” when the legislature passes them (with a little duct tape, white-out and Elmer’s Glue), as we learned during the Doyle era that even raising taxes by billions may not be sufficient to meet the rapacious spending appetites of Democratic governors. Eventually the money can run out, even mid-budget.
Upon receiving the “half-true” rating, Craig challenged Marley to respond to Poltifact.
Journal Sentinel reports Evers’ budget would create ‘$2 billion shortfall’. I state ‘nearly $2 billion deficit’. PolitiFact rates my statement ‘half true’.
“The gap, known as the structural deficit, would be the largest since former Gov. Jim Doyle..”
— Sen. David Craig (@SenDaveCraig) April 24, 2019
Craig also asked the newspaper to defend their reporter.
So, @journalsentinel, your headline said ‘$2 billion shortfall’, your reporter,@patrickdmarley, said ‘nearly $2 billion gap… known as the structural deficit’. I said ‘nearly $2 billion deficit’… will you stand by your own reporter? pic.twitter.com/FK38Ni4fOC
— Sen. David Craig (@SenDaveCraig) April 24, 2019
So far, silence. In the absence of any explanation from the newspaper, once again we rate Politifact billing itself as an unbiased fact-checking column, “pants on fire.”