Catch up with our Most-Read Posts from 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 at 4:34 PM by
Happy holidays

Happy holidays from Tamarine and Jon at the Wisconsin Budget Project!

With all the changes that federal lawmakers and President-elect Trump have said they will make in the coming year, it’s no wonder everyone is talking about the budget decisions that may be made in 2017. But before we move on to the new year, let’s take a look back at the budget decisions made in 2016.

Here at the Wisconsin Budget Project, we’ve been working all year to make sense of complex budget-related issues and explain how decisions made by federal and state lawmakers help or harm people in Wisconsin. A look back at our most-read posts and publications over the last year serves as a snapshot of budget decisions made over the course of 2016 and earlier, and demonstrates the consequences of those decisions.

Next year brings many unknowns, to say the least. You can keep up with what’s happening by following the Wisconsin Budget Project on Facebook and Twitter (@WiBudgetProject), signing up to get occasional emails, and reading our blog and website. Read more

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Solution to Highway Funding Shortfall Shouldn’t Include Taking Money from Schools or Health Care

Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 1:48 PM by

Wisconsin lawmakers are struggling with how to address a shortfall in the pot of money that the state uses to build and repair highways. There are several possible solutions, but one course of action should be off the table: siphoning off resources slated to pay for the education of Wisconsin schoolchildren or helping people with low incomes get the medical care they need, and redirecting that money to pay for highways.

State lawmakers are in a bind because there is not nearly enough money in the state’s Transportation Fund to keep planned highway projects on schedule. That shortfall is largely due to the fact that Wisconsin’s gas tax has been frozen for the past decade, with inflation eating away at the value of the tax and causing a slow decline in the gas tax revenues into the Transportation Fund.

With gas tax frozen, resources for building highways have declined

There are a variety of opinions among lawmakers about how to solve this dilemma. Read more

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Judge’s Decision Puts Scope of Overtime Protections in Trump’s Hands

Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 1:04 PM by

Suspended Rule Change Would Benefit Nearly 1 in 4 Salaried Workers in Wisconsin

Low-wage workers who are required to work long hours deserve the protection of federal overtime laws. Unfortunately, a long-awaited federal rule change that would have extended overtime benefits to almost one fourth of salaried Wisconsin workers has been blocked and its fate is now in the hands of the incoming Trump administration.

The new overtime rule approved by the Labor Department was scheduled to take effect on December 1, but a November 22nd ruling by a district court judge in Texas put the rule in limbo. The judge’s injunction might enable the new president to kill the rule simply by not appealing that decision, rather than going through the lengthy rulemaking process that would otherwise be required to reverse or change the new rule.

The judge’s ruling maintains the current policy that says employers don’t have to pay overtime to salaried workers earning more than $23,660 per year ($455 per week) if they are classified in any of these three categories: executives, administrators, or professionals. Read more

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Revenue Shortfall Means another Difficult Budget

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 at 7:54 PM by

This Year’s Tax Collections Are Expected to be $351 Million below Original Estimate

A new state report about projected state revenue and the agency budget requests reinforces concerns that the upcoming 2017-19 Wisconsin budget will be another difficult one to balance. The primary problem is that tax revenue growth is well below the level anticipated when the budget bill was enacted in July 2015.

I’ll get to the specific numbers in a moment, but the bottom line is that the state’s large tax cuts, coupled with lower-than-anticipated job gains and revenue growth, mean that as state policymakers develop the next state budget they are going to have to either continue to squeeze spending or close some tax loopholes. Read more

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Voters Demonstrate Popularity of Minimum Wage Increases

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 10:41 AM by

Trump Owes It to Workers to Raise the Floor for Wages

The broad popular support for increasing the minimum wage was demonstrated quite clearly on November 8 when voters backed increases in all five states where the wage floor was on the ballot. President-elect Trump should back up his promises to help the working class by pushing for a significant boost in the national minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 per hour for almost eight years.

In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, voters approved increases in their state minimum wages to $12 by 2020. Voters in Washington State went further by approving a measure to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020, and the electorate of Flagstaff Arizona approved an increase to $15 by 2021. The state-level ballot measures in Arizona and Washington also expand paid sick leave to more workers.

The increases in the pay floor were approved by significant percentages: 60% in Washington, 59% in Arizona, and 55% in both Colorado and Maine. Read more

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In 2016, Wisconsin Voters Approved Record Levels of New Resources for Schools

Thursday, November 10, 2016 at 3:03 PM by

This year, voters in Wisconsin voluntarily raised property taxes on themselves by a record amount to pay for additional investments in local schools. The increase could signal a growing frustration with the strict limits on school district budgets that have been imposed by state lawmakers.

The state limits the average amount each school district may spend to educate students, but voters in a district can override the spending limit by approving a referendum lifting the spending caps and raising their property taxes. Voters also determine via referendum whether to allow a school district to issue debt for big capital projects, such as building a new school.

Prior to 2011, state lawmakers allowed regular, relatively predictable increases in the amount school districts were allowed to spend on each student. That approach ended in 2011. Since then, lawmakers have allowed either small or no increases in the caps they impose on school district budgets. Read more

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School Referendums on Ballot are far Larger than in Past Presidential Election Years

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 2:05 PM by

On Tuesday, voters in dozens of school districts across the state will determine whether to provide additional resources to children in public schools. The dollar amount school districts are asking voters to approve is far larger than the amounts that were on the ballot for the 2012 or 2008 presidential election.

Next week, school districts will ask voters to approve:

  • $1.14 billion in borrowing for new construction and building updates:
  • $140 million in increases to school district budgets. These increases boost school district budgets for a set period of time and then expire, at which point school districts revert to their previous budget levels; and
  • $59 million in increases to school districts budgets on a recurring basis.

The requested amounts dwarf the amounts on the ballot for the two most recent presidential elections. The amount of borrowing that is on the ballot this November is three times higher than the proposed amount four years ago; the proposed amounts for non-recurring increases in budget caps is six times higher than it was four years ago, and five times higher for referendums to lift the budget caps on a recurring basis. Read more

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State Tax Growth Lags Well Behind Anticipated Level

Friday, October 21, 2016 at 8:00 AM by

The Combined Effects of Two New Budget Reports Create Significant Fiscal Challenges

New tax collection numbers released yesterday are the second dose of worrisome budget news in Wisconsin this week. Right on the heels of a report showing that the budget balance was well below the anticipated level after the close of the 2015-16 fiscal year, new tax collection figures reveal that revenue fell well short of the projected level during the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

Taken together, the two documents released this week indicate that it could be very challenging to finish the 2016-17 fiscal year in the black. Read more

Where are the Kids? Northern Wisconsin Experiences a Significant Decline in the Number of Children

Thursday, October 20, 2016 at 10:13 AM by

Most counties in Wisconsin have fewer children than they did five years ago, with some of the biggest declines occurring in counties in northern Wisconsin, according to new population figures released by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The decrease in the number of children has led to declining enrollment in many rural school districts, presenting those districts with a host of financial challenges that stem from trying to pay for fixed costs with diminished resources.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of children in Wisconsin declined by about 42,000, from 1.34 million to 1.30 million, for a decline of 3.2%.

The decline was most severe in the northern part of the state, with virtually every county in the north experiencing a drop in the number of children. The counties with the largest declines in percentage terms between 2010 and 2015 included:

  • Adams County, -16.0%;
  • Iron County, -15.5%;
  • Lincoln County, -14.1%;
  • Bayfield County, -13.3%; and
  • Rusk County, -11.9%.
Read more
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Mixed News on State Budget: Increased Balance Falls Short of Budgeted Level

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 at 12:47 PM by

Despite Delay in Debt Payments, Budget Remains Very Tight

An annual budget report issued yesterday has a little bit of good news for the state, but also disappointing news. The bottom line is that the state’s budget balance grew this year, but by less than the budget bill was counting on. As a result, it could be difficult to keep this year’s budget in the black if tax revenue continues to fall short of the expected level. [See the update below about the new tax collection figures.]

The new Annual Fiscal Report shows that Wisconsin finished the 2015-16 fiscal year with a balance of almost $314 million.  Although that’s pretty good news, it’s also a bit disappointing because even though the balance grew by $87 million this year, the budget bill had assumed the state would have about $77 million more in its balance at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year. Read more