Cream Puffery: Tommy Thompson Whitewashes Big-Spending Ways; Doubled the Size of Government

Feb 27, 2012

Washington lobbyist Tommy Thompson began his stump speech before the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s forum last week with a cream puff tale of spending and debt — despite the fact that Thompson poured the foundation for Wisconsin’s structural deficit, doubled the cost of government, and sent spending skyrocketing by a whopping 118 percent.

“They say there is no zeal like the convert, so it is impressive to see a big spender like Tommy Thompson now singing a song of restraint and fiscal conservatism,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Tuesday. “Hearing Tommy Thompson talk about spending restraint is like listening to the failed dieter who is going to hold off on that fifth cream puff.”

THE FACTS: State Spending Doubled Under Thompson
“Thompson … Oversaw The Doubling Of State Spending.” [Wisconsin State Journal, 2/01/01]

Journal Sentinel: State Spending Doubled Under Thompson. “State spending doubled in the 1990s, when Republican Tommy G. Thompson was governor and McCallum was lieutenant governor.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/1/01]

La Crosse Tribune: Spending Increased 118% Under Thompson. “But it’s time to bust the myth that Thompson was the paragon of conservatism on the platforms of less government and reduced spending. In fact, the opposite is true. State spending increased 118 percent under the Thompson administration from 1987 to 2001. Thompson did add jobs state government employment rose 25 percent.” [La Crosse Tribune editorial, 3/06/11]

Tommy’s 2000 Budget Grew By 13 Percent. “Still, conservatives in the state grouse with some justification that Thompson has moved to the left ideologically in his last two terms. In recent years, spending has far outpaced inflation and population growth—his fiscal 2000 budget grew by 13 percent in nominal terms. He has supported spending for sports stadiums in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Even with his tax cuts, state income tax collections have outpaced personal income growth (revenue growth is twice as high as personal income growth, in fact), suggesting that he should have provided even more tax relief. In 1998 he vetoed the Republican legislature’s property tax cut. He endorsed new taxes on cigarettes and gasoline. And he supports taxing Internet purchases. So in many ways, Thompson is a political enigma. His first two terms as governor produced some truly historic public policy accomplishments, but his last two terms were mildly disappointing as he has jockeyed himself into the middle of the political playing field.” [Cato Institute “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors: 2000”, 2/12/01]

State Government Spending Increased Every Year Under Thompson. From 1992, the first year in which this data was available, state government spending increased every year under Thompson’s leadership. [US Census Bureau, State and Local Government Finance Historical Data]

Year State Government Expenditures
1992 13,595,620
1993 14,620,876
1994 15,281,465
1995 16,301,863
1996 16,989,913
1997 18,199,533
1998 19,001,608
1999 20,465,757
2000 22,833,463
[Source: US Census Bureau, State and Local Government Finance Historical Data]

Report From Conservative Think Tank WPRI: Wisconsin’s Budget Troubles Caused In Part By High Levels Of Spending During 1990s. According to a March 2005 report from conservative think tank WPRI, “Much attention has been given to analyzing the causes of Wisconsin’s financial troubles. One analysis showed that the state’s budget troubles could be traced to three factors: an elevated level of spending during the 1990s, a tax reduction that went into effect in 2001, and the downturn in the national economy. If any one of these three had not occurred, Wisconsin might have been able to withstand the downturn in revenue collections. However, all three occurred and the state is still reeling from the perfect budget storm.” [“Financial Delusion: The $1.9 Billion Deficit in a ‘Balanced’ Wisconsin Budget,” Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, March 2005]

Top Thompson Aide Jim Klauser Is Chair Of WPRI. WPRI’s website lists James R. Klauser as chairman of WPRI. The March 2005 report also noted that Klauser was a member of the group’s board of directors. [WPRI – About Us, accessed 10/5/11; “Financial Delusion: The $1.9 Billion Deficit in a ‘Balanced’ Wisconsin Budget,” Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, March 2005]

THE FACTS: Wisconsin’s Structural Deficit Began Under Thompson

Press Gazette: Wisconsin’s $2.3 Billion Structural Deficit Has Its Roots in the Thompson Years. “And they may also remember that the Wisconsin budget’s $2.3 billion structural deficit has its roots in the Thompson years. Both at the state and federal levels, government failure to live within its means will be a huge issue this fall, and Thompson is vulnerable on that count.”  [Green Bay Press Gazette editorial 2/25/10]

Thompson Was Governor at “Birth of the Structural Deficit.”  “Aside from his many merits, Thompson owes us for having been governor at the birth of the structural deficit. I’ll explain that quickly before your eyes glaze over: It boils down to the state being on the hook for more spending than it can expect to afford. It’s a squishy number – the state could skip everyone’s raise, and revenue could soar – but it’s worth some fretting.” [McIlheran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/1/06]

The Structural Deficit Began During the Thompson Administration. “The structural deficit — a false balancing of the budget with accounting tricks, begun during Gov. Tommy Thompson’s administration — has ballooned to more than $2 billion according to the latest estimates. The bulge was created by a combination of increased taxes, additional spending and the governor’s long resistance to substantive cuts. Deficit spending at the state and federal levels has helped delay the economic recovery.” [Green Bay Press Gazette editorial, 1/27/10]

State Journal: Thompson “Rode the Wave of Windfall Surpluses” Instead of Socking Money Away. It was former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and past Legislatures, Berry noted, that “rode the wave of windfall surpluses” in the mid- to late-1990s rather than socking money away. [Wisconsin State Journal, 11/10/02]

Long-Term Deficits Began Under Thompson. “Regrettably, I don’t see much progress being made in getting the state’s fiscal house back in order,” said Todd Berry, president of the non-profit Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. Doyle is simply continuing long-term deficits started under former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, Berry said. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/11/05]