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Focus Newsletter

Focus Newsletter Transportation financing (I): The local impact

September 30, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 18
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State and local road funding will be central to the 2017-19 state budget debate. Stagnant state aid funding, state-mandated local property tax limits, and local street maintenance needs are prompting some counties and municipalities to... Read More


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    Focus Newsletter - September 30, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 19Transportation financing (II): Debt exacerbates state challenge

    For years, Wisconsin has had a problem matching transportation “wants” with available revenues. Gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, the main sources of transportation fund support, are not growing. Meanwhile, past and... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 29, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 17Status of Wisconsin cities and villages (II): Citizen engagement

    Due to lack of opposition, about half of state assembly and three-fourths of state senate members are known before the fall election. A new WISTAX study finds that lack of electoral choice is even more of a problem at the municipal... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 29, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 16Status of Wisconsin cities and villages (I): Fiscal and economic health

    A new WISTAX study examines the state of Wisconsin’s roughly 600 cities and villages. During 2011-14, their property taxes grew 5.2%, while their state aids fell 7.5%. Spending for public safety and, to a higher degree, streets... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 2, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 15Property values up 3% statewide, still trail pre-recession peak

    Preliminary figures from the Wis. Dept. of Revenue show that taxable property statewide had a 2016 value of $505.1 billion (b), up 3.0% from 2015. That remains slightly below the pre-recession high of $514.4b. Appreciation around the... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 29, 2016  •  No. 14State budgets vulnerable to economic slowdown, forecast error

    Stable budgets depend on economic growth and accurate revenue forecasts. If a state lacks emergency reserves, an economic or political shock can lead to a deficit. New “Fed” estimates suggest a softening economy. A national... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 22, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 13Legislative Council committees tackle the tough issues

    When state lawmakers encounter complex issues that can’t be easily resolved during a regular session, they sometimes turn to Legislative Council study committees to develop recommendations. Consisting of both legislators and the... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - June 30, 2016  •  No. 12How have schools here and elsewhere weathered economic and fiscal storms?

    New Census data through 2014 shed light on K-12 expenditures. In 2002, Wisconsin spent $8,574 per pupil, 11.3% more than the U.S. ($7,701). The difference between the two was due to benefits: Wisconsin spent $2,070 per pupil, or 57%... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - June 21, 2016  •  No. 11Historic July 4 speeches: Presidents Roosevelt and Reagan

    To mark civic holidays, WISTAX occasionally reprints historic documents. In two of the most memorable July 4 addresses, Presidents Franklin Roosevelt (D) and Ronald Reagan (R) invoked common purpose and shared sacrifice to... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - June 13, 2016  •  No. 10They’re off: State legislative candidates set for August primary, fall general

    With papers filed, Wisconsin candidates have kicked off the 2016 campaign. Despite reported high voter interest nationally, only 224 hopefuls filed for 115 state legislative seats —the lowest number since at least 2000. In 41... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 31, 2016  •  No. 9Final property tax numbers for 2016

    Gross property taxes to be collected this year rose 2.3% to $10.6b. School taxes, the single largest share of the levy at almost 46%, increased 2.0%, as did counties (20% of the total). Municipalities accounted for 25% of total levies... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 17, 2016  •  No. 8“Scoop and toss”: State again uses financial move to push debt into future

    In the past two decades, governors have restructured state debt in a way that generates funds for the cash-strapped general fund in the short-term while increasing state borrowing costs in the long run. Since 2000, these debt maneuvers... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 9, 2016  •  No. 7School districts exceeding state revenue limits by referendum, or . . .

    For more than 20 years, state law has imposed revenue limits on school districts that local voters could increase by referendum.  Until 2010, passage was a 50-50 proposition, but approval rates have since increased, topping 80%... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - April 15, 2016  •  No. 6Could national politics affect state balance of power and 2017-19 budget?

    Republicans control both houses of the legislature with comfortable majorities. However, if the presidential race now in disarray alters customary turnout and party preference patterns, the result could have ripple effects... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - March 29, 2016  •  No. 5State income tax story: Lessons about rates, wants, and inflation

    Wisconsin created the first state income tax in 1911. After 50 years, collections topped $150 million; today, they exceed $7 billion.  Collections surged during the 1960-2000 period. Revenue wants grew, marginal tax rates... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - March 18, 2016  •  No. 4“Perpetuation of our Political Institutions” - A. Lincoln, 1838

    To promote active, informed citizenship, we occasionally reprint important historical documents. In January 1838, Abraham Lincoln, then just 28, addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, IL. Aware that pro-slavery mobs... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - February 26, 2016  •  No. 3On the Sockeye surge, pander bears, and the federal income tax

    The federal income tax had 148.7 million filers and generated almost $1.4 trillion in revenue during the last tax season. The bulk of the filers (62.3%) had incomes under $50,000, while almost half (48.4%) of the income was reported by... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - February 16, 2016  •  No. 2The state of the state and its economy: Multiple perspectives

    Early each year, Wisconsin incumbents, both state and local, deliver “state of the . . .” messages. While these are usually political, other sources offer a more balanced view. Federal personal income figures show Wisconsin... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - January 11, 2016  •  No. 1County levies up 2%; total property taxes statewide up slightly more

    Based on levy increases of 2.1% for schools, 2.4% for technical colleges, and 2.0% for counties, it is estimated that 2015-16 property taxes statewide will increase about 2.2% when figures are finalized this spring. After state tax... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - December 31, 2015  •  No. 26Alphabet soup: New state CAFR shows increased “GAAP deficit”

    The state controller has released Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015. Unlike state budgets susceptible to accounting tricks, the CAFR follows generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). It shows the... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - December 18, 2015  •  No. 25Simple gifts Wisconsin politicians could give the people

    In a twist on the journalistic tradition of listing holiday gifts for elected officials, simple ideas for gifts that state politicians could actually give the people of Wisconsin are offered. These practical presents would encourage... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - December 10, 2015  •  No. 24School, technical college tax increases somewhat higher in 2015-16

    Statewide, school property taxes for 2015-16 are up 2.1% to $4.85 billion, the largest increase since 2011 but below the 1997-2011 average (4.5%). In all, 275 districts raised taxes, while 143 cut them. Reasons for change included... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - November 30, 2015How Wisconsin governments spend: Priorities and trends (II)

    In 1985-86, commissions named by Gov. Anthony Earl (D) termed Wisconsin a“high spending” state and suggested a goal of reaching U.S. expenditure averages by 1993. That did not happen then, but it occurred several times in... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - November 20, 2015  •  No. 22How Wisconsin governments spend: Priorities and trends (I)

    New Census figures show that state-local spending in Wisconsin claimed 19.4% of personal income (24th highest) in 2013, or just 2.3% more than the U.S. average (19.0%). Twenty years prior, the state ranked higher (14th) and spent 11.0%... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - November 10, 2015  •  No. 21New Census tax figures: Wisconsin tax rank lower than thought

    The U.S. Census Bureau releases tax collection figures for states two years after the fact. New data for 2013 showed Wisconsin outside the top 10, while Minnesota ranked 8th and Illinois 9th. WISTAX analysis of the federal data found an... Read More

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