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Focus Newsletter

Focus Newsletter State spending: Largest and fastest-growing programs

November 8, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 22
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State general fund spending increases averaged 2.7% per year during 2011-17 compared to 2.3% during 2001-17, a period that included the “great recession.” Over half of spending goes for aids to local governments. The largest... Read More


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    Focus Newsletter - October 23, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 21New Census figures enable state-local spending comparisons

    Total spending by state and local governments in Wisconsin claimed 20.0% of personal income, 21st highest, compared to the U.S. average of 19.2%. The highest share of income went to various public welfare programs (4.7%, 15th),... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 17, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 20State-local taxes: Wisconsin’s place in the 50-state pecking order

    According to Census Bureau figures just out for 2015, Wisconsin’s state-local tax burden has drifted down from ranking third in 1994 to 21st in 2015. The state relies principally on three taxes: a largely local property tax, a... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 6, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 19Pulling fingers from the property-tax pie: Tax reform in Wisconsin

    While Washington loudly talks the tax reform talk, with no promise of success, Wisconsin has quietly walked the property-tax reform walk by eliminating any state use of the tax and positioning it to end technical college and personal... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - September 27, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 18First look “under the hood” (II): New 2017-19 state budget

    Disputes over transportation funding were the major factor in delaying the 2017-19 state budget. While the new budget reduces highway borrowing compared to prior budgets, it spends down most of a $145 million surplus, taps the general... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - September 26, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 17First look “under the hood” (I): New 2017-19 state budget

    After a summer-long delay, Wisconsin has a new biennial budget. Before vetoes, it increases general fund spending 8.5% from an estimated $31.32 billion (b) in 2015-17 to $34.0b in 2017-19. The budget devotes about $2b in new revenues... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 30, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 16Rare survey: City-village officials speak out on finances, jobs, and the future

    With 600 cities and villages in Wisconsin, little was known about the challenges they collectively face until WISTAX surveyed them in 2016 and again in 2017. With state government freezing local aids, at best, and imposing limits on... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 17, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 15New federal figures: School spending trends inform, surprise

    For years, Wisconsin has spent more per pupil on K-12 schools than the U.S. Newly released Census figures for 2015 show that Wisconsin dipped below the national average for the first time in memory. But they also show that, when fringe... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 10, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 17Parting of the ways: Diverging growth in county property values

    Preliminary 2017 market values for Wisconsin property are out from the state. A decade after the last recession, statewide "equalized values" have finally surpassed their 2008 peak. However, the recovery is spotty: In 29... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 27, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 13While Washington slept: Experts see coming crises in U.S. entitlements, debt

    Attention focused on the short-term fate of "Obamacare," while reports on the troubled future of larger retirement and health programs and the federal budget went unnoticed. Social Security and Medicare trust funds will be... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 6, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 12A late state budget: Pending issues, past history, and national context

    In the last 40 years, almost all state budgets have cleared the legislature's budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance (JCF) by now, yet the tax-and-spending plan for 2017-19 remains in JCF hands. Wisconsin is one of eight states... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - June 12, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 11Values of existing homes still below 2008 in many parts of state

    With the 2008 recession, the combined market value of all property in the state fell for five consecutive years before starting a recovery in 2014. By 2016, commercial and manufacturing values were both above 2008 levels by 6.7% and... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 30, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 10Budget politics, 2017: "The world turned upside down"?

    Political parties in state government usually settle internal disagreements quietly and in private. That's why intraparty differences over the 2017-19 state budget are so unusual. The unprecedented but public feud between the... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 12, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 9Assembly GOP dives into transport finance, gubernatorial cold water

    Even before state budget work began, it was clear that transportation finance—stagnant revenues and a heavy debt load—would dominate debate. Setting aside the governor's request for project delays and $500 million in... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - May 4, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 8Balloon squeezing: Transportation finance and the state budget

    Wisconsin's transportation finance woes are long-standing. If past is prologue, the status quo—rising debt costs and project delays—will continue. However, the governor (R) and some legislative leaders (R) have also... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - April 18, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 7The 2016 CAFR: State controller sees red, while state officials see black

    After each fiscal year, the state controller, a CPA, issues a "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report," or CAFR. The state's CAFR must follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The state budget does not use... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - March 31, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 6'Tis the (other) season: Wisconsin income tax has surprises

    Wisconsin's individual income tax is the nation's oldest. Last year, it generated $7 billion, far more than other state taxes. A little more than 30 states have "progressive" income taxes. Wisconsin's is unusual... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - March 13, 2017  •  Vol. 2017 No. 5As transportation finance problem languishes, ironies emerge

    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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