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.
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
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%.
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.
Several significant pieces of Wisconsin budget data were released late last week:
- Our state is facing a structural deficit of $642 million in the next biennium, which means that $642 million of growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) will be needed even if there is no net increase in spending levels in the 2015-17 budget.
- State tax collections were 21% lower in April than in the same month of the previous fiscal year. (See our May 23 blog post.)
- Total Wisconsin tax collections over the first 10 months of the current fiscal year are $21 million less than in the comparable portion of 2012-13.
None of these news items is cause for alarm right now, but the convergence of these facts means the state’s fiscal situation merits watching and might prove to be weaker than some state lawmakers have assumed.
Before taking a closer look at some of the cautionary considerations, let’s start by reviewing several positive perspectives on the state’s budget situation:
- The estimated structural deficit for 2015-17 is substantially smaller than the budget challenges the state faced in most of the other budgets since the late 1990s.
Figures released Friday by the Department of Revenue indicate that state tax collections were 21% lower in April than in the same month of 2013 – primarily because of a $332 million drop in individual income tax revenue. Perhaps more importantly, tax collections have been falling for the past several months – to the point that total tax revenue over the first 10 months of the current fiscal year is now a little bit (0.2%) below the total at this point of the previous fiscal year.
Of course, part of the sharp decline in April can be attributed to income tax cuts that took effect at the beginning of tax year 2014, and part is the result of reductions in income tax withholding that took effect on April 1. Those variables and others make it difficult to do the number crunching to assess whether the latest drop in tax collections is cause for alarm – especially on a gorgeous Friday afternoon when I’m anxious to get out of the office and start the holiday weekend. Read more
New Federal Money Provides Chance to Close Large Hole in W-2 and Improve Child Care
Wisconsin got some good news from Washington over the last couple of months, in the form of supplemental federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and additional child care and development funds (CCDF). The plans for using part of that additional funding – $19.8 million from TANF and $3.8 million from CCDF – will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on May 6th. (The LFB paper can be found here.)
I’ve written numerous times over the past year or so about the fact that the biennial budget bill made very unrealistic assumptions about declining participation in the state’s welfare to work program, known as Wisconsin Works or W-2. The budget bill cut the W-2 appropriation and siphoned off TANF block grant funding by using it to supplant state funds for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read more
Wisconsin has fewer public employees for our population than most other states have, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Wisconsin’s lean public sector is not a recent development; public employment in Wisconsin has been at lower levels than the national average for at least the last two decades.
State lawmakers seem intent on passing the property and income tax cut package proposed by Governor Walker. So far the proposal has passed the Assembly, has been approved with minor changes by the legislature’s budget panel, and was approved by the Senate today. The proposal will need to head back to the Assembly for final approval before being signed by Governor Walker.
Here are five things to know about the tax cut proposal. Some of them have been well-reported in the media, but others have received little attention.
1. The proposal cuts income and property taxes, for a total of $537 million in tax cuts over two years after factoring in indirect impacts. Here is how that amount breaks down:
- $404 million in an across-the-board property tax cut.
- $99 million for reducing the bottom income tax bracket from 4.4% to 4.0%. The maximum benefit from this measure would be about $58 per year.