In Government Spending, Wisconsin Ranks Near the Middle

Monday, October 8, 2012 at 8:15 PM by

Wisconsin is about in the middle of the pack in government spending, according to a new analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project.  Combined state and local spending per person in Wisconsin was 1.4 percent below the per capita national average in 2010 – the latest year for which data is available – placing it 23rd among the states.

When spending is measured relative to income, Wisconsin was 2.9 percent above average in 2010, but still ranked 23rd.  For this analysis we included all state and local government spending except spending in certain categories that not all states have, such as spending for state-run liquor stores. These numbers pre-date the deep cuts in government spending included in the 2011-13 state budget. The chart below shows that Wisconsin ranks just above average in state and local government spending.


Wisconsin’s relatively lean public sector workforce is one of the reasons the state remains below average in per capita spending.  Only 10 other states have fewer state and local public employees relative to population size than Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is also close to average in per-person taxes and fees combined.  Total taxes, fees and miscellaneous revenue in Wisconsin (excluding federal revenue) were $25 per person above the national average in 2010 and ranked 20th among the states.  

One area in which Wisconsin ranks considerably higher – 9th among the states – is taxes relative to personal income. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Wisconsin relies more heavily on taxes and less heavily on fees that most other states
  • Personal income in Wisconsin is lower than the national average – about 4 percent less; and
  • Wisconsin receives 5.8 percent less federal revenue per state resident than the U.S. average (34th among the states), and must therefore compensate with more revenue from state and local sources.

The Wisconsin Budget Project’s full analysis of the new Census Bureau data on government spending, taxes and total revenue is available here.

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