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Focus Newsletter

Focus Newsletter State property values continue slow climb back from recession lows

August 10, 2015  •  No. 15
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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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    Focus Newsletter - April 30, 2015“It’s May, it’s May, the month of yes you may” �

    In 2011 and again in 2013, revenue estimates revised upward in May gave lawmakers leeway to pad spending or cut taxes.  Facing gubernatorial cuts to education and high levels of highway bonding, they hoped higher May reestimates... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - March 11, 2015  •  Vol. 2015 No. 5The 2015-17 state budget (II): Basic nuts and bolts

    Lawmakers have begun review of the governor’s proposed 2015-17 budget. Although they will focus on program details, several basic budget figures also merit attention. First, the pending budget has slim balances—less than 1%... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - February 18, 2015  •  Vol. 2015 No. 4The 2015-17 state budget (I): Getting to now

    To understand the pending 2015-17 budget, one must understand its roots. This year, state spending will exceed revenues by as much as $800 million. As a result, the $759 million surplus of two years ago is gone. The state expects over... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - February 2, 2015  •  Vol. 2015 No. 3Update: State-local government spending in Wisconsin

    New US Census figures for 2012 show Wisconsin state-local governments spent 20.3% of personal income, 23rd highest among the states. During the prior year (2010-11) state-local governments spent the highest share of income (21.8%) in at... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - January 25, 2015  •  Vol. 2015 No. 2State of the state? Rhetorical and statistical

    Wisconsin government has little ceremonial tradition; the governor’s January state-of-the-state address is one of the few. Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) fifth address differed from earlier ones: It was shorter, and less focused on... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - January 7, 2015  •  Vol. 2015 No. 1New tax rank information brings surprises from south, west

    New tax figures from the US Census released over the holidays brought rare news. Both Illinois (now, 9th) and Minnesota (10th) moved past Wisconsin (12th) in state-local tax burden relative to personal income. Illinois, which in modern... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - December 31, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 26Mind the G-A-A-P: The perpetual deficit is down to $1.4 billion

    Confusion over the size of state general fund surpluses or deficits seems perpetual. Political mischief aside, part of the reason rests with accounting method. Wisconsin budgets on a cash basis but later prepares its financial... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - December 22, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 25Did the state

    The big news on the property tax front this year was the legislature’s attempt to “buy down” levies by appropriating $406 million in additional aid for technical colleges. That resulted in “tech college”... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 27, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 21It’s back! Tax-rate-itis hits some local governments, schools

    Every fall, as local government and school budgets are finalized, tax-rate-itis returns. Press releases and news stories announce a freeze or drop in property tax rates, but levies rise. If attention is only on tax rates, rising... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 16, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 20State finances (II): Two big questions for candidates

    Forecasting economic performance—and state tax collections—is never exact. Since 2000, the average error in budgeting state tax revenues was $400 million (m), ranging from +$306m in 2013 to -$1,513m in 2009. Maintaining... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - October 13, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 19State finances (I): Deficit candor

    In a two-part series, this and the next issue of Focus advise the press and public to view politicians’ surpluses and deficit claims with caution. By applying the term deficit to future situations that make no assumptions about... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - September 26, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 18A look at school fund balances yields surprises

    The fund balances, or financial reserves, of school districts can help assess their fiscal strength. Over the past 20 years, these reserves have grown fastest when state finances and school funding policy were most uncertain. Since... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 29, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 17Candidates for elimination? Property taxes in 2015 (II)

    In addition to technical college property taxes, the legislature is studying ending the personal property tax. The vast majority of personal property once taxed is now exempt. Today, the tax accounts for only 2.5% of all property tax... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 29, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 16Candidates for elimination? Property taxes in 2015 (I)

    The property tax is Wisconsin’s oldest, and probably most unpopular tax. Property tax relief has been a campaign promise since statehood. Yet our property taxes remain 11th highest in the US and 25% above average. Special... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - August 22, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 15State’s property values up 2.6% in 2014 but still trail 2008

    Every August, the state releases full-market (“equalized”) value information for property in Wisconsin. In 2014, the state’s total valuation increased 2.6% to $479.5 billion (b). Though modest, this was the first... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 30, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 14Wisconsin’s only “report card” assesses state competitive position

    For the 15th consecutive year, WISTAX researchers have prepared an annual report card assessing state performance on 33 measures ranging from state finances and tax burden to school outcomes and firm creation. Over the past five years,... Read More

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    Focus Newsletter - July 16, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 13Spending and saving, 2013-15: Comparing the 50 states

    During the recession, states cut spending and raided reserves. With the uneven recovery, they slowly returned to budget stability. In fiscal 2014 and 2015, the 50 states combined are increasing general fund spending 5.0% and 2.9%,... Read More

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