Can State Lawmakers Count on Federal Funds for Highways and Health Insurance Subsidies?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 7:06 PM by

Today’s Circuit Court Ruling Reinforces the Inconsistencies in State Lawmakers’ Reasoning 

Should state lawmakers turn down federal funds whenever there’s a risk that the funding in question could be cut in future years?  If so, why is Wisconsin proceeding with major highway and bridge construction plans at a time when Congress is using short-term gimmicks to keep the Highway Trust Fund from becoming insolvent?  And why did Wisconsin cut BadgerCare eligibility in half for parents, based on reliance on federal funding to subsidize the federal health insurance Marketplace? 

That last question has gotten little attention over the past year, but it will be raised more often following a ruling today by a subset of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Two of the three judges participating in that ruling concluded that federal subsidies for the health insurance Marketplace can only go to people in states that set up their own Marketplaces.  Read more

Tax Cuts Aren’t Delivering Job Growth, in Wisconsin or Elsewhere

Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 9:27 AM by

Wisconsin isn’t the only state that has made deep tax cuts on the premise of boosting the economy, only to find out that the promised job growth has not materialized. Kansas and North Carolina also passed large tax cuts and have experienced disappointing job growth. As a result of the tax cuts, these states have fewer resources to support investments in public schools, higher education, and a healthy workforce – investments that have a proven track record for creating jobs.

In Wisconsin, lawmakers have passed a series of tax cuts that total nearly $2 billion over four years. Governor Walker and some legislators have said that these tax cuts will make Wisconsin a more attractive place to do business, but job growth in Wisconsin since the tax cuts took effect has been slower than the national average. Unlike the U.S., Wisconsin has not yet gained enough jobs to replace the ones wiped out by the recession. Read more

Border Wars in Job Piracy: Will Wisconsin Take the Opportunity to Cease Fire?

Monday, July 14, 2014 at 3:47 PM by

The term “border wars” has taken on a new meaning for many states and cities across the United States thatpc5dpEMcB have been engaged in the practice of job piracy.  However, a number of areas in the country are shifting away from this practice of luring jobs over state borders after recognizing that it is inefficient and does little to fuel job growth. Wisconsin policymakers should learn from the experiences in those states and localities and from the remedial actions they are taking.

On July 9th Good Jobs First released a new report exploring the issue of job piracy, also called job poaching, which wastefully exhausts economic development subsidies without incentivizing new job creation.  The report, “Ending Job Piracy, Building Regional Prosperity,” provides examples of failing models of job piracy, including the border war that has been raging between Missouri and Kansas. 

Missouri legislators have gradually come to the realization that job piracy is a zero sum game that is wastefully exhausting the economic development resources of both states.   Read more

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Should Counties Put a BadgerCare Expansion Question on the Fall Ballot?

Friday, July 11, 2014 at 11:59 AM by

At least 13 Wisconsin counties may include an advisory referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether Wisconsin should expand BadgerCare and take the federal funding that would cover the full cost of newly eligible childless adults.  The proposed ballot measure, which has already been approved in 4 counties and enjoys broad support, has generated debate about whether the Medicaid expansion topic is an appropriate matter for an advisory referendum.

There are many strong arguments in favor of taking the federal funding (see WCCF’s “Top Ten” list); however, some people who argue against including the BadgerCare question on the November ballot contend that it’s not a concern of county government.  But even if we assume for the moment that an interest in county residents’ access to affordable health care isn’t reason enough for counties to allow voters to weigh in on the issue, counties also have their own reasons to be very interested in whether the state expands BadgerCare and accepts the federal funds:

  • One very important consideration for counties is they bear the financial responsibility (rather than the state) for some community-based Medicaid services.
  • Read more

New Bill in Congress Would Make Wisconsin’s Budget Harder to Balance

Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 2:48 PM by

A bill under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives could limit Wisconsin’s flexibility in applying sales tax and make it more difficult to invest in schools and communities, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows.

A committee in the House recently approved a bill that would prohibit all state and local taxation of Internet access. Currently, there is a moratorium on new taxes on Internet access fees, but seven states with pre-existing internet access taxes – including Wisconsin – were grandfathered in. This new proposal would eliminate the exception for Wisconsin and other states, and permanently ban all taxes on Internet access.

For Wisconsin, this restriction would reduce the resources the state uses to invest in public education, a healthy workforce, and a solid transportation network. Wisconsin would lose $127 million in tax revenue in 2015 if prohibited from taxing Internet access – resources that could be used to make Wisconsin a more attractive place to live and do business. Read more

Falling Behind: Support for Wisconsin’s Schools Not Keeping up with Inflation

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:02 AM by

Most school districts will receive less state support next school year than they did this school year, when the rising cost of living is taken into account. Fifty-nine percent of Wisconsin districts will either receive less general aid next year or receive an increase that is smaller than the projected 2015 rate of inflation, according to new figures released last week.

State lawmakers increased the amount of general aid to districts by 2% between this year and next year. The state’s Department of Public Instruction uses a complex formula to distribute that aid among the school districts. Based on this formula, there can be a significant amount of variation in the amount of general aid an individual district receives from one year to the next. Six percent of school districts will receive a boost of 10% or more in the amount of general aid they receive next year, and 19% will have their general aid drop by at least 10%. Read more

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Wisconsin Gets Bad News Today on Both Taxes and Spending

Friday, June 27, 2014 at 5:03 PM by

Revenue Collections Continue to Fall, While Medicaid Deficit Takes Large Jump

The state’s fiscal situation has gradually deteriorated in 2014, and new tax collection figures released late Friday afternoon show a continuation of that trend. That fiscal problem is exacerbated by a couple of areas where spending is growing, including a substantial increase announced today in the estimated Medicaid deficit.

Starting on the revenue side of the state’s budget ledger, here are some of the key figures gleaned from the Department of Revenue’s press release:

  • General Fund tax collections fell $26 million in May, compared to May 2013, which is a drop of 2.5% (measured on an adjusted basis).
  • Over the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, state tax revenue is down by almost $49 million or 0.4%.
  • Although sales tax revenue is up by $186 million or 5.2% over the last 11 months, individual income tax collections are down by almost $290 million – a drop of 4.6%.
  • Read more

State Lawmakers Act to Limit Local Control

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 4:31 PM by

In recent years, the Wisconsin legislature has passed more than 60 measures that represent unfunded mandates for local governments or restrict the authority of local governments.

Many state lawmakers embrace the idea of local control, saying that they believe governing should take place at the local level when possible. But instead of expanding local control, the Wisconsin legislature has limited the ability of local governments to make decisions in a wide variety of areas.

The Wisconsin legislature added 64 new limitations or unfunded mandates for local governments in the last four years, according to this memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. New limits added by lawmakers include:

  • Constraints on the ability of counties, municipalities, technical college districts, and school districts to set property tax levels;
  • Restrictions on local ordinances that protect tenants and limit landlord authority;
  • A limit on the ability of local governments to impose residency requirements on employees; and
  • The repeal of regional transit authorities.
  • Read more

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Job Growth in Wisconsin Still Slow, Despite Numerous Tax Breaks

Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 12:14 PM by

Wisconsin continues to perform poorly in private sector job growth, according to new employment figures released today.

The number of private sector jobs in Wisconsin grew by 1.2% in 2013, compared to 2.1% nationally. The new jobs figures come from the Quarter Census of Employment and Wages, which this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article calls “the most credible and comprehensive” figures available.

Wisconsin job growth has been slower than that in neighboring states, according to the Journal Sentinel:

“In the first three years of Walker’s term, the data show that Wisconsin ranked 35th of 50 states in the rate of private-sector job growth. That puts it behind the nearby states of Michigan (sixth of 50), which is bouncing back from a searing downturn in the auto industry; Indiana (15); Minnesota (20); Ohio (25); Iowa (28), and Illinois (33).”

State lawmakers have passed dozens of tax cuts since 2011, but that hasn’t spurred job growth. Read more

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GDP Numbers Confirm Wisconsin’s Lagging Growth

Monday, June 16, 2014 at 7:18 PM by

Wisconsin’s economic growth has lagged behind that of most other states, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The new report issued last week provides inflation-adjusted statistics on gross domestic product (GDP) in every state for each of the years from 2010 through 2013.

The following graph illustrates that Wisconsin’s GDP growth of 4.5% over the last three years has been well below the national average of 6.1%.  Wisconsin has also lagged behind the other states in upper Midwest, except for Illinois. 

GDP-growth2

The second bar graph compares the annual growth since 2010 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and for the U.S. as a whole.  Some conservatives have argued that Wisconsin’s economy would grow more rapidly because our state has been cutting taxes and practicing austerity during a period when Minnesota raised taxes. The graph illustrates that Minnesota’s growth has been stronger for each of the last three years.GDP-growth4

If  Wisconsin’s economy had grown at the same rate as the national average over the three years since 2010, our state GDP would have been about $4 billion higher at the end of 2013.   Read more