Wisconsin prisons are over capacity and cannot house the additional inmates that incarcerated under a new law toughening penalties for repeat drunk driving, according to state officials. To address the lack of space, the Department of Corrections recently proposed spending $40 million over the next two years to expand contracts with local governments to house state prisoners. The new costs should spur lawmakers to take a hard look at corrections costs and implement strategies proven to reduce prison populations as well as the costs to taxpayers and communities.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a law increasing the severity of the offense of the fourth and subsequent instances of driving while intoxicated. The change means that more people will be sent to prison for repeat instances of drunk driving; the Department of Corrections estimates the new law will increase the number of inmates in the state prison system by 458 inmates at the end of 2017, and by 1,205 inmates at the end of 2018. Read more
Can You Hear Me Now? How about Now? Wisconsin Residents Again Voice Support for Raising Minimum Wage
Half of Wisconsin residents support a very large increase in Wisconsin’s minimum wage that would more than double what the lowest-paid workers earn, according to a new Marquette University poll. Yet Wisconsin lawmakers have yet to show any inclination they consider it a priority to make sure the lowest-paid workers in Wisconsin get a raise.
This isn’t the first time that Wisconsin residents have shown their support for increasing the minimum wage. In 2014, voters in 13 Wisconsin counties and cities had the opportunity to vote on a referendum asking lawmakers to raise the minimum wage – and every one of the referendums passed. Past polls by Marquette University have also shown that large majorities want the minimum wage raised.
What’s different about this poll is that it gauged support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, more than double Wisconsin’s current minimum wage of $7.25. Past Marquette University polls asked about increasing the minimum to $10.10 per hour or did not identify a specific increase in the minimum wage. Read more
Counties in rural northeast Wisconsin send as many people to prison for their size as the urban counties in southeast Wisconsin, according to newly-released figures on prison admissions. High prison admission rates from some rural Wisconsin counties are part of a national pattern in which people from small counties are as likely or more likely to go to prison than people from large counties.
Milwaukee County sends more people to prison for the size of its population than any other Wisconsin county, with 26.4 prison admissions in 2014 per 10,000 residents, according to an analysis in the New York Times. But some rural counties in northeast Wisconsin send almost as many people to prison for their size as Milwaukee County. The five counties with the next highest prison admission rates after Milwaukee County are:
- Forest County, with 26.3 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Marinette County, 25.4 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Kenosha County, 25.2 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Racine County, 24.4 prison admissions per 10,000 residents; and
- Langlade County, 22.2 prison admissions per 10,000 residents.
Poverty Remains Well above Pre-recession Level, and Extreme Disparities Continue
In many respects, the national and Wisconsin data released today by the Census Bureau is much better than I dared hope for, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be popping any champagne corks today. A closer analysis of the data reveals that most Wisconsinites are still making less than they did before the Great Recession, and our state continues to have extreme economic disparities based on race. Read more
Uninsured Rate Declines Sharply Nationally and in Wisconsin
New data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the federal health care reform law has been extremely effective in reducing the number of people who are uninsured, both nationally and here in Wisconsin. The new figures also bring very good news on national improvements relating to income and poverty.
The number of Wisconsinites who do not have health insurance fell sharply during the first two years of implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to the new data from the American Community Survey (ACS), 195,000 fewer Wisconsin residents were uninsured last year than in 2013, a decline of 37.6%.
The national ACS data show that the number of Americans without health insurance fell by more than a third from 2013 to 2015, and the percentage who are uninsured is now at an all-time low. That reflects a drop in the uninsured population of almost 7 million last year, on top of an improvement of about 8.5 million in 2014, when key parts of the health care reform law took effect. Read more
The decline in unions has reduced pay for non-unionized workers as well as unionized ones, costing some workers thousands of dollars a year in lost wages, and is a major contributor to growing levels of income inequality, according to a new report from the the Economic Policy Institute.
It’s well-establish that union workers earn more in wages and other compensation than non-union workers who are otherwise the same in education, industry, age, and other factors. Union workers are more highly paid than their counterparts, and better off with regards to health insurance, retirement, and paid time off.
Unions also benefit non-union workers as well. Non-union workers benefit from a strong union presence in their labor market because unions set wage and workplace policies that are often followed by other businesses that do not have unions. In order to attract employees, non-unionized employers must offer wages similar to that agreed upon at unionized workplaces. Read more
Governor Walker has said he will include a back-to-school sales tax holiday in his proposed budget, a gimmick that would reduce the resources available to support Wisconsin’s schools, university system, and communities, without providing any real economic benefit.
The sales tax holiday would exempt purchases of school supplies, computers, and clothing from the sales tax for two days in August 2017 and again in August 2018. That change would cost the state an estimated $11 million a year in lost tax revenue.
A sales tax holiday would do little to boost consumer spending or give a tax break to Wisconsin families with low incomes. There are a whole host of downsides to a sales tax holiday, including:
- Instead of encouraging consumers to spend more money, sales tax holidays simply shift the timing of the spending;
- A sales tax holiday on back-to-school items involves lawmakers picking winners and losers among types of goods that are exempt from the sales tax; and
- Sales tax holidays are not an effective tool for giving a tax cut to individuals with low incomes, since a large amount of savings is given to people in higher income groups as well.
The latest annual State of Working Wisconsin report has some positive findings about recent trends for Wisconsin workers; however, it also shines a light on some ongoing challenges, and it concludes that Wisconsinites “all need stronger policy to support broadly shared prosperity.”
COWS (formerly known as the Center on Wisconsin Strategy) issues this report every Labor Day weekend. Because it’s an illuminating report, and Labor Day is an important holiday, I want to share the major findings – while minimizing my own labor this weekend. In that spirit, I am passing along several excerpts from the COWS press release.
On the plus side of the ledger, the report describes the positive effects in Wisconsin of the national economy’s gradual rebound from the Great Recession:
“The state has more jobs than ever before, unemployment rates have fallen to pre-recession levels, and workers that want full-time work are having an easier time finding it.
Disappointing Tax Collections Could Cut into the State’s Small Reserves
State policymakers got some disappointing budget news this week, when the Department of Revenue (DOR) released state tax collection figures late Thursday. The revenue shortfall doesn’t pose imminent budget problems, and I’m somewhat relieved that the shortfall wasn’t larger, but the drop in the 2015-16 tax revenue might pose a problem in the second half of our biennial budget, particularly if the drop is repeated this year.
The new DOR figures show that revenue growth for the last fiscal year (ending on June 30) was $85 million (0.6%) short of the amount projected by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) back in January. That January estimate had already been lowered by $29 million below the amount anticipated when the 2015-17 budget bill was enacted a little over a year ago. Read more
Wisconsin provides far less public support per student to the University of Wisconsin System than it did fifteen years ago, according to an analysis of newly-released figures.
In 2016, the state provided $6,800 in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) support to the UW System per full-time equivalent student. That’s down more than a third from the $10,500 that the state provided to the UW System per student in 2001. Dollar amounts are from a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo and are adjusted for inflation; student FTEs are from the University of Wisconsin website.
The chart shows that steep cuts to the University of Wisconsin System are nothing new – indeed, they date back fifteen years. The difference is that in in the early 2000s, lawmakers allowed tuition to rise substantially at the same time as they cut GPR support. That increase in tuition cushioned the effects of the reductions in state support but also raised the price of a university education, pushing the cost of higher education out of reach for some struggling families. Read more