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.
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 is leaner in most types of public sector jobs than all but a few other states, according to a review of employment figures by Governing.
Only three states have fewer public workers working in areas other than education than Wisconsin, according to the analysis. For every 10,000 state residents, Wisconsin has 199 public non-education employees. That’s less than half the number of public employees per population in Wyoming, which had the most public employees for its population size, and 50% less than the number of public employees per population in New York, Mississippi, and Alaska. Only three states had a smaller number of public employees than Wisconsin for their population size.
Wisconsin also ranked relatively low in payroll costs. For every $100,000 in personal income, Wisconsin governments spent $202 in March 2014 for non-education public employees. Only 11 states have lower payroll costs as a share of personal income. Read more
Governor Walker’s public statements and his instructions to state agencies on how to develop their proposals for Wisconsin’s next state budget give some glimpses into what the state’s 2017-19 budget might bring.
Wisconsin has a two-year budget. The process of deciding what to include in the budget starts in the summer of even numbered years — in other words, now — when the Governor instructs state agencies how to develop budget requests. Agencies submit their requests to the Governor in September, and the Governor takes the requests into consideration when developing his own budget proposal to submit to the Legislature. The Governor is expected to release his budget proposal in the early part of 2017. (For more about the Wisconsin state budget cycle, check the Wisconsin Budget Project’s Budget Toolkit.)
Reduced Participation Provides Opportunity and Reason to Streamline Enrollment Procedures
Members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee got some very good news last Friday in the form of a quarterly report on the state Medicaid budget from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). The letter from the interim Secretary of DHS indicates that the agency now estimates that Medicaid spending during the 2015-17 biennium will be $418.6 million below the amount lawmakers anticipated when they passed the budget bill a year ago.
The portion of Medicaid spending specifically from state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) is projected to be almost $176 million (3.1%) less than the budget bill set aside. That’s an improvement of $90.6 million GPR since the last projection was made three months ago.
These numbers from DHS are very good news at a time when state revenue projections haven’t been very good. The reduced growth in Medicaid spending improves the prospects for keeping the total state budget in the black – without resorting to additional remedial measures (beyond the delay in debt payments that the Governor already implemented). Read more
Wisconsin got a very positive jobs report last week, but the apparent good news from the preliminary May data did not carry over to last month’s tax collections. As a result, the state may finish the current fiscal year well below the revenue target included in the budget bill – creating a more precarious situation in the second half of the 2015-17 biennial budget.
The Department of Revenue released the May tax collections figures at about 4:00 on Friday, June 17. As is often the case when those numbers are released late on a Friday, the news wasn’t good. The new DOR figures show the following:
- Tax collections fell by $17.5 million (1.5%) in May, relative to the amount in May 2015.
- Although sales tax collections increased by $25 million compared to the same month of 2015, individual income tax revenue dropped by 6.3% ($31.5 million) last month, and corporate income tax revenue was off by $8.5 million (almost 35%).
Wisconsin Is Third Lowest Nationally in Total Spending for Public Health
Concerns about the threats posed by the Zika virus have generated debate in Congress about funding for public health and have drawn attention to the importance of public health systems. That makes this a very appropriate time to also look at the funding for our state and local public health departments.
In Wisconsin, as in other states, we expect a lot from the public health system. However, we generally take that system for granted, and Wisconsin has one of the most poorly funded public health systems in the nation.
A recent report by the Trust for America’s Health (Investing in America’s health: a state-by-state look at public health funding and key health facts) compares the total spending level for public health in each state in 2015, and it also ranks states by the public health funding from a variety of sources. Read more
Tech. College Funding Shift Masks 25 Percent Cut in Higher Ed Support Since 2008
Wisconsin cut state support for higher education by 8.3 percent this year, or $603 per student. As the following graph illustrates, only Arizona cut state funding for higher education by a larger percentage.
In contrast to Wisconsin, most states have been taking advantage of the national economic recovery to increase support for higher education and restore some of the funding cut during the recession. The bar graph from a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shows that Wisconsin was one of just 11 states that cut its support for higher education in the current fiscal year, relative to fiscal year 2015, and almost all of the other cuts were far smaller. Read more
Governor Walker has delayed a payment on the state’s debt, pushing costs off into the future and increasing the amount of interest the state will have to pay. Postponing debt payments can be a helpful tool to manage budget shortfalls, but Governor Walker hasn’t released information indicating why the delay was necessary.
Instead of making a $101 debt payment that was due in May, the state skipped the payment and restructured the debt to be repaid over the next eight years. (State law allows the governor to restructure certain types of debt without getting the approval of legislators.) This move reduces spending in this fiscal year, but raises future costs in two ways:
- By increasing the amount of principal that must be repaid in future years. Spreading out the $101 million cost over the next eight years will raise payments on the debt principal by $12.6 million for each year between 2017 and 2024.
Regularly putting money into the state’s Rainy Day Fund during periods of sustained economic growth helps build up a budget cushion on which the state can rely to cushion the impact of recessions and avoid harmful budget cuts. But before 2011, Wisconsin’s Rainy Day Fund sat mostly empty.
In 2011, 2012, and 2013, the state deposited money into the Rainy Day Fund when tax revenues came in higher than anticipated, building the balance to $280 million. But lawmakers made no deposits to the fund in 2014, 2015, or in 2016 so far. They pushed aside a requirement that part of higher-than-anticipated tax revenues be deposited in the Rainy Day Fund, and instead passed new tax cuts and allowed existing tax cuts to grow. Some of those tax breaks benefitted large corporations and taxpayers with high incomes.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how big a state’s Rainy Day Fund should be, but the Government Finance Officers Association recommends that states have at a minimum of 5% to 15% of annual general revenues set aside. Read more