According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state had $8.28 billion in general-obligation, transportation and environmental debt in mid-2006; the same debts totaled $4.41 billion in 1996.
The 87% increase was three times the U.S. inflation rate over that period.
Figures show that debt rose the most - by $1.8 billion- under Thompson between 1996 and 2001, when he resigned to become a cabinet secretary for President Bush. Debt increased by more than $1.5 billion in Doyle's first three years.
Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said the growing debt is another risky budget decision governors and legislators have made to benefit themselves politically.
Also rising is annual debt-service payments on those bonds: Principal and interest payments on general-obligation bonds will exceed $700 million for the first time this year; and payments on transportation bonds will cost an additional $174 million.
That $874 million is cash that can't be used for other important programs. By comparison, that amount is close to what it cost to run the state's prison system last year.
There are two real issues. The first is that the increase in bonding burdens future generations, which is alright if they are the ones who benefit. The second issue concerns the state's bond rating. As it falls debt service costs rise, crowding out other budget items.
The article could have been improved by publishing the debt as a percentage of the state economy, as it has grown by 50% over the last 9 years. That makes the outstanding debt about 2.9% of Gross State Product in 1997 and about 3.6% in 2006. Not exactly an enormous increase.