To begin with, the Policy Forum points out that Wisconsinites pay a lower percentage of their incomes in state and local taxes than they did 20 years ago.
A look further back shows 2017 taxes (10.3% of income) fell from the 11.5% they took up in 2007 and 12.4% in 1997. The state’s tax ranking also fell from seventh highest in 1997 and 16th highest in 2007. The 16.7% decrease since 1997 in the share of income going to state and local taxes in Wisconsin was the eighth-largest among all states and the second-largest in the Midwest, behind only Indiana. (For neighboring states, see Figure 1.)As you can see, Wisconsin's taxes have been reduced more than Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa over those 20 years measured, but still is slightly above the levels that the country as a whole pays.
But that tax ranking is made up of several different types of revenue sources. Wisconsin has a higher income tax than most states, but a lower sales tax at the state and local levels. Similarly, Wisconsin's system of loading most local government services onto the property tax raises that burden compared to most other states.
Property tax levies by municipalities, schools, counties, and other local governments represent the single largest tax in the state at 3.5% of personal income in 2017. Though that figure was unchanged from the previous year, the state’s property tax ranking in 2017 fell by one slot to 16th highest....On the spending side, Wisconsin is middle of the pack at 24th in the nation. But what we spend money on has changed significantly over time. The Policy Forum says this is especially true in education spending, where Wisconsin used to be among the leaders in investing, but now is merely average.
Wisconsin’s individual income tax takes up the next highest share of income at 2.8%, which was 11th highest in the country in 2017. The tax’s share of personal income and its national rank were both unchanged from 2016. Again, the ranking would change if we looked at some subsets of income taxpayers.
The sales tax—the last of the state’s three big taxes—took up 2% of personal income in Wisconsin, ranking the state 33rd nationally. Those figures have been essentially unchanged since 2009.
Spending on K-12 schools in Wisconsin accounted for 4.1% of personal income in 2017, which ranked 24th highest and equaled the national average. That was significantly less than the 5.3% of income spent on K-12 education in 1997, which ranked sixth. Complicating comparisons, however, is the fact that 2011 Act 10 ended most collective bargaining for teachers and most other public employees and lowered school and local government spending on workers’ benefits. In 2017, higher education spending on universities, colleges, and technical colleges ranked 19th highest at 2.3% of income, which was above average among states.Oh, lowering taxes and lowering K-12 spending happened at the same time in Wisconsin? It's almost like there's a direct connection between that, as well as our current shortages of teachers both in the classrooms, and with fewer people graduating from college programs.
I also note that Minnesota and Iowa keep pumping up their schools while we don't. Instead, we are closer to Michigan and Illinois these days. Seems like an issue.
Meanwhile, the Policy Forum notes that Wisconsin spends more on Medicaid, Corrections and highways than most places.
Spending on Medicaid and other public assistance programs in the state took up 4.6% of income, ranking 22nd highest. Corrections spending ranked 15th highest in the nation while police spending was 21st highest and fire spending 33rd.These 3 items go directly to policy choices in recent years. For example, a reason Medicaid spending is higher in Wisconsin because we refuse to take the expanded Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act, which would push those expenses onto the Feds instead of us (on a related note, a Pew report earlier this year placed Wisconsin 45th in the country for federal aid).
Spending on highways and streets represented 2% of income in 2017, or sixth highest among states. That was a large increase from the 1.3% of income spent in 2016, which ranked 20th.
On the Corrections side, this is an obvious effect of the "lock em up" mentality of WisGOPs that has ended up with the state spending more on Corrections than the UW System. The "6th in the US" highway spending number can be connected back to a huge increase in local wheel taxes to fix roads that Scott Walker and the WisGOP Legislature refused to pay for.
And of course, the real story is whether Wisconsin's trend of lower taxes and reducing our previously-strong investments in education and other areas translated into an improved economy in the 2010s. The answer is "Not so much."
So go ahead WisGOP, try to talk up the fact that we continue to fall down in the taxing and spending rankings compared to our Midwestern neighbors. Especially given the stagnant economic growth and recent trend of job loss and rising unemployment in the state, I don't think many non-ahole Wisconsinites are happy with that trade.