Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Spending on Medicaid, Tech Colleges Soars

Up by 81% and 281% under Walker.

By - Jan 29th, 2018 11:53 am
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Republican National Convention in July. Walker supports ID laws to counter fraud even though voter fraud is rare in the state. Photo by Emily Mahoney of News21.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Republican National Convention in July. Walker supports ID laws to counter fraud even though voter fraud is rare in the state. Photo by Emily Mahoney of News21.

Numbers are like elections. They matter.

So, as Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators gear up to seek re-election in November, it’s time to consider 15 benchmarks of state government during six years of GOP control.

The benchmarks measure the change from state government’s 2011 fiscal (July through June) year – the last budget of then-Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle – and the fiscal 2017 budget signed into law by Walker.

Asked about those overall changes, Dale Knapp, the veteran research director for the non-profit Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) noted two problem areas. WPF was created when the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum merged.

“Medicaid continues to drive the general fund budget, and is squeezing money from other programs,” Knapp said.

Relied on by one in five Wisconsin residents for health or personal care, state Medicaid spending soared by 81 percent between 2011 and ’17 – from $1.45 billion a year to $2.63 billion. In the same period, the national Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, increased by just 9 percent.

The other problem area, Knapp said, is funding highways and other transportation programs. Between fiscal 2011 and ’17, Transportation Fund spending increased by 7.7 percent – from $1.59 billion to $1.71 billion. But that increase was paid for by borrowing that rose 23 percent in just five years (2011-’16). WPF figures showed annual borrowing went from $1.79 billion to $2.21 billion.

“The challenge in this and future budgets is slow-growing transportation revenues and debt service costs in the transportation fund at more than 20 percent of expenditures,” Knapp said, adding: “Given rising costs and transportation needs, our funding mechanism is probably not sustainable long-term.”

Other changes were more encouraging.

For example, state government’s year-end surplus went from a deficit of $20.5 million in mid-2011 to a healthy $514-million balance last June 30, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

Other benchmarks:

  • All-funds state spending: Up 10 percent. WPF said all state spending (state taxes, federal aids, fees and tuition, etc.) was $32.2 billion in 2011 and $35.5 billion last year.
  • General-fund state spending: Up 17.1 percent. In fiscal 2011, spending paid for by state taxes totaled $13.57 billion; in 2017, $15.89 billion.
  • General-fund tax collections: Up 20 percent. State personal and corporate income, sales, cigarette and all other tax collections totaled $12.9 billion in fiscal 2011; in 2017, $15.5 billion.
  • State general-fund support for UW System: Down by 6.3 percent. WPF said state government’s subsidy of the 26-campus UW System was $1.1 billion in fiscal 2011 and $1.03 billion six years later.
  • State tax dollars for technical colleges: Up 281 percent. Walker has encouraged more high school students to train for careers by enrolling in technical colleges, instead of four-year colleges and universities. The governor and legislators have backed that up by raising state aid to technical colleges from $136.2 million in fiscal 2011 to $519.4 million last year.
  • Net property tax bill on median-valued home: Down by $102. LFB reports say that net tax bill, which is what the owner of a median-valued home paid after tax credits were subtracted, was $2,953 in December 2011 and $2,851 last year – a drop of $102, or 3.4 percent.

In that same period, the assessed value of that average home went from $157,692 to $160,622.

  • Net (after-tax credits) property tax levy statewide: Up 4.3 percent. Schools and other local governments levied $9.35 billion in property taxes in December 2011 and $9.76 billion last month.
  • Spending on Department of Corrections (DOC): Up 3.5 percent. State general-fund spending on the prisons, parole and probation system was $1.13 billion in fiscal 2011 and $1.17 billion last year. On Jan. 19 of this year, DOC reported that Wisconsin prisons held 23,149 inmates – about 650 more than in mid-2011.
  • Number of state workers: Down 2.3 percent. State Department of Administration reports listed 71,797 full-time state workers on June 30, 2011, and 70,095 in mid-2017.
  • GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) deficit: Went from a 2011 deficit of $2.99 billion to a $1.72 billion deficit last year – an improvement of 42 percent. State government runs a large GAAP deficit because it commits a large portion of future state taxes to schools and other local governments.
  • Total state government debt: Up 6.2 percent. WPF said all state debts totaled $12.92 billion in mid-2011 and $13.7 billion last year.

Now you can play Trivial Pursuit/State Government edition. Or ask those candidates who want your vote in November about these benchmarks.

Steven Walters is a senior producer with the nonprofit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

2 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Spending on Medicaid, Tech Colleges Soars”

  1. JOANNE E BROWN says:

    How did you come up with 2011 as your base year? Right, it’s when Walker “moved” to Madison. It’s hardly an apt year for comparisons, however, given that the national economic conditions are nowhere near parallel.

    And using percentages instead of actual dollar figures, when the beginning value is low, is quite deceptive. How big is the state budget? 76 billion dollars.

    So that increase to state technical schools, all $383 million, is one-half of one percent of the budget. AND at least some of the increase was a gimmick to reduce local property taxes. It wasn’t increased aid at all, just moving the aid from the local property tax bill to the individual income tax bill — from local property taxes to general purpose revenue. Pretty meaningless, all told.

    Offset by more than a billion dollars cut to public schools, increased obligations of public schools to pay state aids money to private voucher schools, actual salary losses for public employees across the state because of Act 10, reduced aids to localities, increased local property taxes to pay for public schools, and the changes wrought by Walker hit almost everyone in the state hard. Unless you’re Diane Hendricks or Terry Gou.

    Oh, and not being able to drink your own tap water or eat the venison you counted on to fill your freezer? Bad stuff. Ask the folks in Kewaunee County or in the 30+ counties where CWD has been found.

  2. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Scott has produced miracles in education, taxes, economy, jobs UW students saving tuition.

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