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Focus Newsletter Could national politics affect state balance of power and 2017-19 budget?

April 15, 2016  •  No. 6
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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    To promote active, informed citizenship, we occasionally reprint important historical documents.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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    Focus Newsletter - October 23, 2015  •  No. 20New state fiscal report answers budget questions

    Every October, state government issues its Annual Fiscal Report for the fiscal year ending the prior June. The new AFR shows Wisconsin closed its 2015 books with a general fund surplus of $135.6 million. Compared to annual general... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 8, 2015  •  No. 19A “real-world” look at business taxes in the states

    State-local taxes are often compared based on total collections per capita or relative to personal income. A better way to compare business taxes is to focus solely on the taxes firms might actually pay. Drawing on calculations... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - September 16, 2015  •  No. 18First depletion of U.S. entitlement in 2016; others follow within 20 years

    Social Security and Medicare, the nation’s largest programs, claim 42% of federal expenditures. Due to demographic pressures and partisan stasis, the two programs’ three trust funds (OASI, DI, and HI) will be depleted within... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - September 4, 2015  •  No. 17Baby-boom fallout and more: Understanding teacher trends

    A demographic sea change is occurring as Badger baby-boomers retire and birth rates plateau. One example is the 4.0% drop in state teacher counts during 2004-14. Part of this is due to state law and declining enrollments (-1.6%). The... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 31, 2015  •  No. 16State budget footnotes: Of tax hikes, free rides, and future finances

    During and after passage of a state budget bill, lawmakers invariably ask the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to examine three aspects of the two-year tax-and-spending plan: tax and fee changes; non-fiscal “free-riders” tucked... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 10, 2015  •  No. 15State property values continue slow climb back from recession lows

    The market value of Wisconsin property increased 2.4% this year to $490.7 billion. This was the second year of growth after five years of decline. Commercial and manufacturing values outperformed residential; farm and forest lands were... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 31, 2015  •  No. 14State budget basics: A taxpayer’s crib sheet

    Wisconsin’s new 2015-17 budget spends $72.6 billion (b) from all sources, $32.9b from state general fund (GPR) revenues. It increases GPR spending 0.3% this year and 5.0% in 2017. Spending exceeds revenue by $30 million in 2017,... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 22, 2015  •  No. 13The new 2015-17 budget: Few tax changes, more tax collectors

    The 2015-17 budget is now law. With attention focused on gubernatorial proposals to reduce education funding and increase transportation bonding, the budget’s few tax changes were overlooked. The main source of new tax revenue... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 10, 2015  •  No. 12Always on the state budget stage: The struggle to control property taxes

    While other issues dominated the state’s 2015-17 budget drama, concern over local property taxes always lurked in the wings. New, final figures from the state show the 2014-15 net levy was $9.49 billion, a 2.3% drop from 2013-14.... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - June 18, 2015Transportation finance (II): On revenues, politics, and economic impact

    One of the lead obstacles to passing a 2015-17 state budget on time is transportation finance. The options are stark, and all are unpleasant: high levels of borrowing with unsustainable levels of debt service, politically unpalatable... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - June 11, 2015Transportation finance (I): Borrowing divides GOP, slows budget

    The legislature’s 2015-17 budget work was temporarily derailed by transportation finance, long a problem that still needs a sustainable solution. The governor prefers to borrow $1.3 billion, while GOP lawmakers balk. Meanwhile,... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 29, 2015Lawmakers finishing fixes to governor’s budget (if economy cooperates)

    The state legislature is completing three months of review and overhaul of the governor’s 2015-17 budget. Recent signs that the U.S. economy is slowing could require a second look, however. If growth in state tax revenues were... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 11, 2015Local property taxpayers pushing back against state fiscal mandates?

    In recent years, state leaders have pledged to “freeze” or cut local property taxes. Since they don’t levy local taxes, state officials accomplish this indirectly by mandating limits on school revenues and local... Read More

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