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Focus Newsletter

Focus Newsletter As transportation finance problem languishes, ironies emerge

March 13, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 5
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Wisconsin's transportation finance problem is well-known. As it continues unsolved, ironies surrounding the debate emerge. Income and sales tax collections rise almost automatically, fueling general fund spending growth, while the... Read More


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    Focus Newsletter - March 6, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 4Return of K-12 borrowing little noticed, topped $1.35 billion in 2016

    Wisconsin is seeing a resurgence in school district borrowing. Last year, districts approved a record $1.35 billion in new debt. That was 10 times more than five years ago and the most since at least 1993. Another $707.9 million in... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - February 22, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 3The governor's proposed budget: A first look

    Over the next two years, Governor Walker (R) proposes to spend $76.1 billion, $33.9 billion from the general fund. Net general fund spending would rise 8.3% over the next two years, the second largest two-year increase since 2005-07.... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - January 27, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 2Raising the curtain on the state budget

    The 2017-19 state budget will be the main event of the new two-year legislative session, dominating lawmakers’ and the governor’s attention for months. The 1,000-plus-page bill is a behemoth that sets state spending and... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - January 17, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 1Feeling forgotten, outstate voters show capacity to switch, teach lessons

    An unexpected electoral wave in the north and west led to a GOP presidential candidate winning the state for the first time in 32 years. Isolated and feeling ignored by a distant, central government, voters in these areas carried out... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - December 30, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 26More property tax news: State ‘freeze’ holds county increase to 2.2%

    Counties account for about one in five of the $10.8 billion (b) in gross property taxes levied for 2016-17. Their billings totaled $2.13 billion, or 2.2% more than last year. Levies increased more than five percent in nine counties and... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - December 12, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 25Forecast: New property tax bills to average 1.6% increase in 2016-17

    While property tax bills are still being calculated, WISTAX projects 2016-17 bills will increase an average of 1.6% this year, the highest since 2009-10. Net levies statewide will total $9.78 billion. School taxes increased least... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - November 30, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 24New state report raises curtain on Wisconsin’s 2017-19 budget prospects

    Wisconsin’s budget process kicks off every two years in November when the state releases an initial revenue forecast and summarizes agency spending requests. The latest edition of the November report shows growth in tax... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - November 23, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 23Taxes, guns, cola and carbon: The election in 34 other states

    Unlike Wisconsin, decisions on legislation in many other states can be made by referendum. This November, voters in 34 states considered 154 statewide ballot questions. Many were familiar: Tax changes and borrowing requests are always... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - November 4, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 22City-village fiscal facts for municipal budget time

    Since the mid-90s, municipalities have faced declining state aid and tightening state-imposed levy limits. As a result, recent property tax increases have generally been under 2% per year. Figures for the 2010-14 period show that per... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 26, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 21AFR gives info, insights into state taxes, spending, and fiscal health

    Wisconsin’s “Annual Fiscal Report,” which summarizes state finances for the prior year, comes out in mid-October. The 2016 edition shows tax collections grew 3.8% in FY16, although their growth has generally slowed... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 10, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 20Toward a better politics? Options for disillusioned and alienated voters

    History may show that the 2016 campaign set records for unbecoming discourse and voter dissatisfaction. Those seeking a new direction could examine a variety of election reforms, including nonpartisan redistricting; an end to party... 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 - September 30, 2016  •  Vol. 2016 No. 18Transportation financing (I): The local impact

    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 - 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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