Financial charts, a calculator and a folded pair of reading glasses

Is Wisconsin’s Department of Revenue delaying bad news?

For the past month or so I’ve been scratching my head wondering when we would get an update from the WI Department of Revenue on state tax collections during the fiscal year that ended on June 30th. I’m not the only one who has been anxiously awaiting those numbers; four Democrats in the state Senate sent a letter yesterday to Secretary Huebsch asking when the FY 2013-14 revenue numbers will be released.

The letter signed by Senators Larson, Hansen, Shilling and Wirch notes that “last year the June numbers were released on August 23rd.” (You can see that DOR press release here.) The letter adds:

Given the numbers we’ve seen to date, the delay is already fueling concern that they will show a revenue shortfall. How significant that shortfall is could have a wide ranging impact not only on future budgets but the current budget as well.

I share the concern about the potential for a revenue shortfall. A Budget Project Blog post I wrote in June about the reduced tax collections from January through May explains why the downward trend in tax collections has been worrisome, and why the June numbers have taken on increased importance:

If the current trends continue over the last month of the fiscal year ….we will come up short for the current fiscal year by roughly $200 million. And since the budget assumes about $500 million of tax growth in the second year of the biennium, we can ill afford to begin that fiscal year at a level that is $200 million below the anticipated starting point.

Although the Senators’ letter was correct that the tax collection figures for FY 2012-13 were released sooner last year, that hasn’t been the case every year. For example, the FY 2011-12 numbers were released on September 5, 2012. For me, the bigger disappointment this year was that DOR didn’t release tax collection numbers specifically for June, as it did the prior year (in this July 12, 2012 press release). Although DOR hasn’t always issued a comparable set of June tax figures, the revenue trends this year have made it frustrating not to have any update since the May tax collection numbers.

That said, I think any questions about the timing of the revenue numbers for the last fiscal year will soon be inconsequential – once those numbers are released. I applaud the Senators for drawing attention to the fact that these are important figures to be watching for, and for asking the DOA Secretary what the state will do if there is indeed a revenue shortfall.

From www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org

Photo by reynermedia released under a Creative Commons license.