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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Budget Blues

Gov. Doyle’s proposal last night of a $50 billion state budget made us wonder what the first state budget looked like.

When Wisconsin became a state on May 29, 1848, the fiscal and legal apparatus of Wisconsin Territory simply transferred over to the new state apparatus. Territorial lawmakers convened a week later as state officials, and the state commenced business on June 5, 1848, with $765.06 in cash on hand, leftover from the territorial budget.

The new state's fiscal year was January to December, and on Jan. 10, 1849, the state treasurer reported that during the previous six months, state government had taken in $7,942.16, and disbursed $7,919.76, leaving a balance in the state treasury of $22.40. Twelve months later, after its first full year of operation, the state treasurer reported that the state government had received $52,856.39 and paid out $52,845.96, leaving a positive balance of ten dollars and forty-three cents. Although the budget had grown exponentially in just a year, it still balanced nicely.

State treasurer Jairus Fairchild (1801-1862) reported each of the state’s payments individually in his annual reports; the vast majority of these were made to elected or appointed officials. Lawmakers received $2.50 for each day the legislature was in session, and 10 cents for each mile traveled to and from their homes. The governor was paid $1,250 per year and, since he was expected to reside at the capital, no mention was made of compensation for mileage. For a glimpse into early state government operations, you might also want to look at the 1853 Blue Book, a manual prepared by the legislature for members’ use.

So, let’s see... $25 billion in 2007, for a single year’s operation of state government, works out to be $63,493,150 per day; or about $12.37 per day per person (using the U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimate of 5,536,201).

The year 1849’s expenditures of $52,845.96 works out to $144.78 per day; or (using the 1850 Census figure of 305,391) about $0.00047 – about 1/20th of a cent -- per day per person.

:: Posted in Curiosities on February 13, 2007

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