Settling for Second Best: Hospitals Seek to Extend Aid for Uncompensated Care

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 8:26 PM by

While Hospitals Elsewhere Back Medicaid Expansion, Wisconsin Hospitals Offer a Fallback Plan 

Hospitals in Wisconsin and many parts of the U.S. are asking state policymakers to take measures to reduce the amount of uncompensated care, although the recommended measures aren’t always quite the same. In our state, the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) is asking state lawmakers to renew an expiring appropriation that provides state financial relief to hospitals that care for a disproportionate share of the uninsured or underinsured. 

The $30 million state appropriation, which expires in June, captures $44 million in federal funds for “disproportionate share hospitals” (DSH). Wisconsin Health News reported last week that WHA plans to ask state policymakers to renew the appropriation. Extending that funding makes sense if state lawmakers continue to refuse to expand BadgerCare to cover more low-income adults, but the expansion option could save the state close to $300 million in the next budget and do far more to improve access to insurance and help hospitals.  Read more

DHS’s Response to Congress Reiterates the Importance of CHIP Funding for Wisconsin’s Children

Friday, December 12, 2014 at 12:09 PM by

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), while authorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through federal fiscal year (FFY) 2019, created a funding cliff for states by only providing appropriations through FFY 2015. A letter made public last week, which was submitted to members of Congress by DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades (on behalf of the Governor), explains why the extension of CHIP funding is extremely important for children in Wisconsin.

CHIP has garnered bipartisan support since its inception in 1997 and has been instrumental in lowering the uninsured rate of children in the U.S. Now, it’s up to members of Congress to continue working together to ensure that ongoing funding for the program is approved by September 2015.

At tail end of summer, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (E and C) and the Senate Finance Committee sent a letter to the nation’s governors requesting state-specific input on CHIP. Wisconsin, along with 38 other states, provided responses that overwhelmingly stress the importance the program plays in providing low-income children with access to affordable, quality health care.   Read more

Online Sales Grow, but Federal Action to Address Sales Tax Issue is Stalled

Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 11:56 AM by

Holiday shoppers are increasingly turning to the internet to make their purchases, but Congress has yet to close a loophole that gives online only retailers an advantage over their bricks and mortar counterparts.

Currently, online retailers that do not have a physical presence in a particular state are not required to charge sales tax to residents of that state. That doesn’t mean that these purchases are tax free, though: purchasers are still legally required to pay the sales tax, by declaring it on their income tax form. Few do.

When online-only retailers do not charge consumers sales tax – even though sales tax is owed on the purchases – those retailers have a competitive advantage over other retailers that are required to collect sales tax.

Ideally, Congress would step in to level the playing field between different types of retailers, by passing legislation that would allow states to require all retailers to collect sales tax. Read more

More Tax Cuts for the Best-Off Won’t Help Wisconsin Economy

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 1:19 PM by

A prominent conservative advocacy group is asking Wisconsin legislators to pass additional tax cuts for the richest residents. New tax cuts for people with the highest incomes would do little to create jobs, and would undermine Wisconsin’s ability to build the strong schools and communities necessary to support a strong state economy.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is making tax cuts for the rich a high priority, but state lawmakers have already done quite a bit to cut taxes for people at the top. The top 1% of Wisconsin taxpayers – a group with an average income of $1.1 million – got an average tax cut of $2,518 in 2014, thanks to a combination of three major tax cut packages lawmakers passed in 2013 and 2014. In contrast, taxpayers in the bottom fifth of earners, a group with an average income of $14,000, received an average tax cut of just $48 this year. Read more

By Targeting Unions, Lawmakers Risk Lowering Wages for Workers

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 at 9:06 AM by

Weakening unions will be a top priority for state lawmakers when they next meet in January, according to new statements by legislative leaders. Unions help workers achieve higher wages, and limiting unions’ abilities to advocate for workers could make it harder for some families to climb the economic ladder.

Unionized 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 earn $1.24 more per hour, or 13.6% more than other similarly-situated workers who are not in unions, according to an 2012 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. For a full-time worker, that wage difference adds up to nearly $2,600 per year.

In addition to earning more money, union workers are better off than their counterparts with regards to health insurance, retirement, and paid time off. Union workers are more likely to:

  • have employer-sponsored health insurance, including coverage after retirement;
  • have smaller health insurance deductibles;
  • have lower health insurance premium costs;
  • have a pension; and
  • have more paid time off.
  • Read more

Transportation Budget Request Would Drain Resources from Schools and Communities

Monday, December 1, 2014 at 12:07 PM by

The head of Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation has proposed diverting resources usually used to build strong schools, communities, and health care systems, and use the money instead to construct and repair highways.

The Secretary of Transportation has recommended that that lawmakers transfer $548 million from the state’s general fund to the transportation program in the state’s upcoming two-year budget. This proposed transfer would shortchange important priories supported by the general fund, such as keeping higher education affordable and helping workers get the training they need.

In each of the last several budgets, lawmakers have increased the resources transferred away from the general fund to support transportation programs. If lawmakers transfer the $548 million requested for the state’s next budget, there will be a net gain to transportation programs of $862 million over fourteen years, and a net loss to the general fund of that same amount.

Transfers to Transportation

At the ballot box this fall, voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibits lawmakers transferring money out of the state transportation fund to use for other public services. Read more

President Promises Veto of Budget-busting Tax Bill

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 at 5:38 PM by

Congress is on the verge of passing a tax cut plan that would prioritize tax breaks for corporations over middle-income and low-wage working parents, while significantly increasing the federal deficit. As the New York Times reported this morning, President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches him in its current form.  

The bill in question is referred to as “tax extender” legislation, which comes up on a regular basis as the start of the next tax year approaches. In his On the Economy blog today, Jared Bernstein describes this annual process as follows:

“Tax extenders are a series of allegedly temporary tax breaks that are conventionally extended, unpaid for, year after year. These include tax credits for research and development, expensing deductions for small businesses, deductions for state and local sales taxes, and more. To put them in the annual budgets that Congress and the President construct each year would mean they’d either have to be paid for with higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere or added to the deficit. Read more

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Wisconsin Spending Needs Far Exceed the New Revenue Projections

Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 8:19 PM by

State Faces Gap of More than $2.4 Billion between Now and June 2017 

State officials confirmed today what we have feared for many months – that Wisconsin’s spending needs in the next biennium far exceed the projected revenue, and the state must also close a very substantial budget hole in the current fiscal year.  As a result, lawmakers are likely to make cuts that have harmful consequences for Wisconsin children and families and for the investments needed to keep Wisconsin economically competitive. 

Despite the assurances of Walker administration officials over the last couple of months that the state is in strong fiscal shape, the figures contained in a report released by the Department of Administration (DOA) today confirm that balancing the state budget in 2015-17 will require very deep spending cuts or significant tax increases. Specifically, the DOA document reveals the following:

  • Tax revenue for the current fiscal year is now expected to be $82 million below the amount estimated in May (on top of a $281 million tax shortfall in the first half of the biennium), and net appropriations are estimated to be $43 million less.
  • Read more

New DOR Report Foreshadows Budget Challenges

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 9:13 PM by

An economic forecast issued Monday by the Department of Revenue (DOR) provides more evidence that Wisconsin will face substantial budget challenges in the current fiscal year and the next biennium.  According to that document, which is the fall 2014 Wisconsin Economic Outlook, the nation’s economic growth will fall well short of what DOR assumed in its last report, which was issued in January.  (These used to be known as the quarterly economic reports, but for some reason are now issued irregularly and just once or twice a year.)

The January economic report was issued in conjunction with increased state revenue projections, which helped persuade state lawmakers to enact substantial tax cuts. But over the last 10 months the estimates of the national* economy, i.e. the “gross domestic product” (GDP), have changed as follows:

  • The anticipated GDP in 2014 is now $152 billion less (-0.9%) than assumed in January. 
  • The estimate for 2015 is $210 billion lower than previously anticipated (-1.1%).
  • Read more

Increase in Spending on Corrections Comes with Enormous Opportunity Costs

Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 8:30 AM by

Wisconsin Corrections SpendingSpending on corrections has increased dramatically in Wisconsin in recent decades, reducing the resources available for quality schools, safe communities, and health care.

Wisconsin state spending on corrections rose by 308% between 1986 and 2013, when dollar amounts are adjusted for inflation.  Only eight states had larger increases in prison costs, measured as a percentage increase. Nationally, state corrections spending averaged an increase of 141% over this period, less than half of Wisconsin’s increase. Figures are from a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Wisconsin’s increase in spending on corrections has outpaced the increase in all our neighboring states. Corrections spending in Wisconsin increased twice as fast as spending in Minnesota since the mid-1980s, and nearly five times as fast as in Illinois.

This significant increase in corrections spending comes with very large opportunity costs. As corrections spending has increased, it takes up an increasingly large share of the state’s public resources. Read more

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