Middle of the Pack: Wisconsin Government Revenue is Not Out of Line

August 1, 2013

PDF Version   Press release

Despite claims that Wisconsin is a high-tax state, it is actually about average in most measures of revenue and spending among the states, according to new figures from the Census Bureau. Wisconsin ranked 19th out of the 50 states in taxes and fees per person in fiscal year 2011, before the deep spending cuts included in the 2011-13 budget.

Some policymakers focus on Wisconsin’s ranking on taxes alone when evaluating its revenue compared to other states. But focusing just on taxes means that fees and other charges, which come from residents’ pockets much likes taxes do, are not taken into account. Combining taxes with fees and other revenue gives a broader and more complete measure of the money that state and local governments in Wisconsin collect from their residents.

The average amount state residents paid in taxes and fees is close to the national average. In 2011, Wisconsin residents paid an average of $6,346 in taxes, fees, and other charges to state and local governments, $34 higher than the national average.

In nearly every measure of revenue and spending, Wisconsin’s rank has dropped significantly over the last decade:

  • In 2000, Wisconsin ranked 11th among the states in taxes and fees per person, before dropping eight places over the next decade. It ranked 13th in total spending per person in 2000, before falling to 23rd in 2011.
  • Looking at the data another way, in terms of personal income, also shows Wisconsin’s revenue and spending have fallen. By that measure, the state ranked 16th in taxes and fees in 2011, down from 13th in 2000, and 21st in total spending, down from 19th. Because per capita income in Wisconsin is well below the national average, we typically rank higher when revenue and spending are measured on that basis.


Wisconsin policymakers who advocate tax cuts, like those made in the most recent state budget, should know that Wisconsin governments are already close to the national average in the amount of taxes and fees they collect from residents. Additional tax cuts could jeopardize Wisconsin’s public investments in high-quality education and health care, and make it more difficult to invest in public safety and transportation in our communities. That would hurt our economy in the long run, since those are the very things our businesses and families need to thrive.

Tamarine Cornelius and Jon Peacock