A recent fundraising letter for Gov. Scott Walker made a surprising claim about his accomplishments in office: "We've turned a $3.6 billion Jim Doyle deficit into a $300 million surplus. Wisconsin is debt-free for the first time in a decade," the Nov. 23 letter from Friends of Scott Walker read.
Wisconsin, in fact, continues to carry billions of dollars of debt.
According to a June 2011 paper from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin owed $6.8 billion in general obligation debt as of December 2010. The state also owes $3.02 billion in revenue bonding, according to the bureau. These figures will be higher when new numbers are issued in late December, says Al Runde, a Fiscal Bureau analyst. That is because previously authorized bonds will be issued this year, new debt has been incurred, and some debt principal has been deferred, he explains.
Gov. Walker's budget bill authorized the state to issue $2.15 billion of new general obligation and revenue bonding, though the Legislature knocked that down to $1.73 billion, says Runde.
The governor's budget additionally restructured current debt to "roll over" or defer principal amounts, which means the state reduces current payments but will end up owing more in the long run.
According to Runde, it was the second "largest annual amount of debt restructuring to date."
A Walker campaign spokeswoman could not immediately comment.