Other Publications

Focus Newsletter

  1. 51.

    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

  2. 52.

    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

  3. 53.

    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

  4. 54.

    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

  5. 55.

    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

  6. 56.

    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

  7. 57.

    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

  8. 58.

    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

  9. 59.

    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

  10. 60.

    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

  11. 61.

    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

  12. 62.

    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

  13. 63.

    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

  14. 64.

    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

  15. 65.

    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

  16. 66.

    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

  17. 67.

    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

  18. 68.

    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

  19. 69.

    Focus Newsletter - June 24, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 12State economic growth: Facts to assess candidate rhetoric

    Jobs are a focus of the 2014 campaign, but candidate rhetoric on the subject often warrants scrutiny. Voters might want to know that Wisconsin’s economic course generally follows the nation’s. During 1998-2013, state gross... Read More

  20. 70.

    Focus Newsletter - June 12, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 11Fall candidate numbers off: Fiscal and political implications?

    The slate of legislative candidates for forthcoming state elections is now set. The 2014 campaign features fewer candidates (246) than 2010 (314) or 2012 (297)—indeed the fewest since 2006 (243). Numbers are particularly down for... Read More

  21. 71.

    Focus Newsletter - June 9, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 10Property tax review (II): Municipal levies examined

    After school levies, municipal property taxes account for the largest share (24%) of the typical tax bill in Wisconsin. While total gross levies rose 1.3% this year, municipal levies are up 2.0% to $2.55 billion. This is the third... Read More

  22. 72.

    Focus Newsletter - June 9, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 9Property tax review (I): 2013-14 in context

    With all local governments and school districts under some form of state-imposed revenue or tax limit, total net property taxes in Wisconsin grew 1.4% to almost $9.9 billion in 2013-14. The increase was slightly higher than the previous... Read More

  23. 73.

    Focus Newsletter - May 22, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 8To spur the economy, Wisconsin will have to import . . . people!

    As Wisconsin ages and the“natural” population increase—the difference between births and deaths—shrinks, workforce size and job creation are likely to slow. If the state’s population and economy are to... Read More

  24. 74.

    Focus Newsletter - April 25, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 7State income tax facts: Who files? Who pays?

    Examining past tax returns can tell much about Wisconsin’s economic conditions. For example, after declining during the recession, the number of state filers has grown 1.3% per year since 2009. In another encouraging economic... Read More

  25. 75.

    Focus Newsletter - April 15, 2014  •  Vol. 2014 No. 62013-14 legislature: The tax-cut session

    The 2013-14 Wisconsin legislature has gone home. More than its six predecessors, this legislature will be remembered for tax cuts. Over the past year, it cut 2013-15 taxes in three rounds by more than $1.2 billion. The cuts were... Read More

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