WISTAX Offers Voter Guide for Upcoming Elections
Includes Specific Questions for Candidates
MADISON—“With state budget surpluses now being lowered, and a hike in the nation’s sixth highest gas tax a growing possibility, voters have some obvious questions to ask statewide legislative candidates over the next few months,” says Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) President Todd A. Berry. To counter misinformation that is common in multi-million-dollar political “ad wars,” WISTAX released “Issues for Voters, Questions for Candidates,” an in-depth look at key public policy issues currently facing Wisconsin.
“Armed with solid facts and information, voters will be able to ask candidates for answers to specific questions before upcoming elections,” Berry said. WISTAX is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to public policy research and citizen education.
The most difficult issue facing the governor and legislature in 2015 is transportation funding, Berry said. A recent state commission found that, without changes to the status quo, if state transportation spending were to remain at 2013 levels over the next ten years, Wisconsin would still be short $2 billion. The shortfall is due to slow-growing revenue from both gas taxes and registration fees, the state’s main sources of transportation funding. How candidates plan to address the transportation funding problem—either through spending cuts or tax increases—is an important question voters need to ask.
An equally significant issue is the future growth of Wisconsin’s economy. The state’s shares of the U.S. population, jobs, and output (GDP) have been declining over the past 15 years, so voters will need to ask candidates what state government can or should do to boost the economy.
A related area is state finance. Debt service represents a larger percentage of state spending today than previously—4.1% in 2013 vs. about 2.0% of spending during the 1990s. “Candidates need to discuss how we can prevent debt service payments from adding to state budget problems,” Berry observed.
School finance presents an equally difficult challenge. Slow-growing or declining revenue limits on districts can create budget difficulties for schools with high fixed or semi-fixed costs. Finances are particularly challenging in districts with low or declining enrollment. In 2012-13, 123 (34%) of Wisconsin’s K-12 districts had fewer than five students per square mile. Of those, nearly half had fewer than 500 students, and 90% had fewer than 1,000. Since small districts are not able to take full advantage of scale economies, their per student costs tend to be above average. Voters should be prepared to ask candidates what the state can do, if anything, to help these districts financially.
Local government funding also needs to be addressed. Prolonged state budget difficulties, combined with changing state spending priorities, have led to reduced state aid to local governments. Fiscal challenges worsened in 2006 and again in 2011 when the state restricted annual increases in municipal and county property taxes. How legislative hopefuls plan to ease that financial burden is yet another question for voters to pursue.
A free copy of The Wisconsin Taxpayer magazine, “Issues for Voters, Questions for Candidates” is available by visiting www.wistax.org; emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; calling 608.241.9789; or writing WISTAX at 401 North Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033.