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% 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 9%.
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% - from $1.59 billion to $1.71 billion.
But that increase was paid for by borrowing that rose 23% 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% 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).
• All-funds state spending: +10%. WPF said all state spending ((state taxes and fees, federal aid, tuition, etc.) was $32.2 billion in 2011 and $35.5 billion last year.
• General-fund state spending: +17.1%. In fiscal 2011, spending paid for by state taxes totaled $13.57 billion; in 2017, $15.89 billion.
• General-fund tax collections: +20%. 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: -6.3%. 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: +281%.
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: -$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%.
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: +4.3%. 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): +3.5%. 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: -2.3%. 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%.
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: +6.2%. WPF said all state debts totaled $12.92 billion in mid-2011 and $13.7 billion last year.
Now you can play Trivia 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 firstname.lastname@example.org