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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Repeats Debunked Deficit Claim

Donald Trump continues to say that Wisconsin has a budget deficit of $2.2 billion. It didn’t last year when he made the same claim, and it doesn’t this year, either.

In January, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported that it expects the state to finish the current biennium, which ends June 30, 2017, with $70.2 million in its general fund. That’s a projected surplus, not a deficit.

Trump first made claims about Wisconsin’s budget last year when the state’s governor, Scott Walker, was still in the race for the Republican nomination for president. The governor ended his campaign in September, but, on March 29, days ahead of the state’s April 5 primary, Walker endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s chief rival for the party’s nomination. Later that day, in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump hit back at Walker, claiming Wisconsin “owe[s] $2.2 billion in terms of their budget.” (At 3:36 in this video.)

Trump, March 29: You know, I look at what’s happening in Wisconsin with the numbers, the job numbers, the trade numbers, how it’s a stagnant economy, how they owe $2.2 billion in terms of their budget. It’s a disaster. I’m looking at the kind of numbers here. And I know Walker endorsed today Cruz because he couldn’t endorse me because I knocked him out of the presidential race. How is he going to endorse me? And all I did was repeat the numbers in Wisconsin. They’re terrible. And you know, it’s one of those things. So he endorsed him. Let’s see what it means.

It’s not true that the state owes $2.2 billion, as Trump claimed. As we said, Wisconsin’s general fund is currently projected to have a positive balance when its current two-year budget cycle ends next year, according to an analysis by nonpartisan budget experts.

Last year, in our July 29 post “Wisconsin’s Trumped Up Deficit,” we explained that Trump was referring to a projected budget shortfall, not an actual deficit.

In November 2014, Wisconsin’s Department of Administration, based on revenue projections and state agency budget requests for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, said the state faced a shortfall of $2.2 billion for that two-year cycle. But Wisconsin, by state law, is required to have a balanced budget, so some agency requests had to be trimmed. In the end, Walker signed a balanced budget on July 12, 2015.

In a March 28 interview with conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, Trump said he got his information about Wisconsin’s budget from Time magazine. (At 7:00 of this audio.)

Trump, March 28: I took a story out of Time magazine, and the story was exactly what it said. It said a $2.2 billion deficit. Now if Time magazine’s wrong, then they should apologize, and then I would certainly apologize for reading Time magazine. But Time magazine gave that information.

After contacting researchers at Time, Glenn Kessler, of the Washington Post Fact Checker, wrote that Trump may have been referring to a March 19, 2015, article in the magazine that didn’t say that Wisconsin had a deficit.

Rather, it said: “Due largely to tax cuts under Walker, the state could face a $2 billion shortfall in its projected budget, according to the left-leaning Wisconsin Budget Project.”

That’s the same old, projected shortfall — not a deficit — that we previously wrote about. The same projected budget gap that has been closed and no longer exists.