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Our View: Even government has to tighten belt in bad economic times

Last week's news that Wisconsin faces a serious budget shortfall comes as no surprise.

Perhaps that's why it didn't take state officials long to react when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released its gloomy revenue projections Feb. 13.

Governor Jim Doyle and legislative leaders have been bracing for the bad news for some time now. State officials knew things were bad heading into the Christmas shopping season, but they wanted to wait for actual sales tax collections to trickle in before pushing the panic button.

The report puts a concrete number on the whole issue. Now it might be time to find that panic button and push it.

If no adjustments are made in the state budget, Wisconsin could have a $652.3 million shortfall by the end of the 2007-09 biennium.

Declining sales tax collections are mostly to blame for the mess. As people face tough economic times, they spend less money and the state gets less sales tax funding as a result.

The Wisconsin Department of Administration last week announced several steps they will take to soften the shortfall figures just a bit.

Through cuts in state government budgets, officials hope to save $111 million this fiscal year. On the list of ideas to save money are stalling any hiring and limiting the amount of travel.

Even with those cuts, the Legislature and Governor Doyle have a lot of work to do to close the gap between expected revenue and governmental expenditures.

What we don't want to see is additional borrowing, or extending out existing debt payments, in order to fix the immediate problem. Such action only delays a real fix until later on.

Of course, that means a possible answer is higher taxes to help pay the state's obligations. No one wants to see that, but such proposals may need to be considered in light of the current economic atmosphere.