State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide

A robust set of practices for estimating current and longer-term revenues and expenditures is essential for helping states plan for contingencies and determine whether current policies risk putting budgets out of balance in future years. That is why the Volcker Alliance included forecasting in the five budgetary categories it evaluated for fiscal 2015 through 2017. Despite receiving high marks in several areas, Wisconsin fell short in forecasting, joining eight other states with an overall grade of D. Only Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, and North Dakota scored lower than Wisconsin and its peers; the three-year average for all states was B.

Wisconsin’s shortcomings included an absence of multiyear expenditure and revenue forecasts and of consensus revenue forecasts, a best practice designed to ensure that all major players build a budget based on the same revenue estimate. As happens in several other states, Wisconsin’s executive and legislative branches prepare separate revenue estimates, with the governor’s biennial budget proposal based solely on the executive branch’s forecast, prepared by the Department of Revenue. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s estimate is used by the Joint Committee on Finance when legislators debate and mark up the governor’s budget.

In contrast to its performance in forecasting, Wisconsin received straight A’s in legacy costs. The state’s pension plan has 98 percent of the assets needed to offset its obligations, 26 percentage points above the average for all states and tied with New York for the second-best funding ratio, behind South Dakota. Wisconsin also made the full contributions recommended by actuaries over the three years for public worker pension and other postemployment benefits, principally health care.

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To emphasize the need for clear and comprehensible budgets to inform citizens, promote responsible policymaking, and improve fiscal stability, the Volcker Alliance in 2016 began a study of budgetary and financial reporting practices of all fifty states. The Volcker Alliance’s mission is to improve the effectiveness of the administration of government at all levels. Making state budgeting more transparent and accountable is an important part of that goal.

The report cards presented here are taken from the 2017 Volcker Alliance report, Truth and Integrity in State Budgeting: What Is the Reality? which proposes a set of best practices for policymakers. For those wishing to gain greater insight into state fiscal issues, the accompanying budget resource guide is derived from the Alliance publication State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses (2016). 

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