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By the numbers: Wisconsin’s add up pretty well

By Matt Pommer

New statistics offer a glimpse of why many think Wisconsin is among the nation’s most livable states.

For openers Wisconsin is ranked the 12th healthiest state, based on 22 factors compiled by the United Health Foundation. We’re the 10th lowest in percent of elderly citizens living in poverty, and the state is the eighth “smartest” based on 21 factors related to education.

Public perception often suggests that Wisconsin is a high-tax state. Here the numbers are especially interesting. The state was fairly high in the 1980s and rose to sixth highest in 1995. But the 2008 figures show Wisconsin is now 21st in state and local tax revenue.

Some would suggest that using 2008 data — the latest available — isn’t fair because Wisconsin increased its income tax on the wealthy and corporations in 2009. Other states stayed the course, but they now face far greater budget gaps as 2011 begins.

Minnesota is facing a $6.3 billion structural deficit while the incoming Scott Walker administration puts the Badger State gap at $3.3 billion. Neighboring Illinois is on the edge of a fiscal crisis, being months behind in paying vendors who provided services to the state.

Payment of state and local taxes as a share of income in Wisconsin in fiscal year 2008 were 16.7 percent. That compares to a national average of 16.4 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures in a report prepared by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

One area where Wisconsin lags behind is federal spending, a reflection of the few military facilities in our state. Per capita federal spending in the last five fiscal years was $7,416, or $1,414 lower than the national average.

Wisconsin also lags behind in the percentage of households with income exceeding $200,000 annually. Nationally, 3.9 percent of households exceed that level but in Wisconsin the number is 2.4 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

Personal income per capita in Wisconsin is six percent lower than the national average, and Milwaukee is one of the country’s poorest cities, the Council notes. Wisconsin ranks 2.2 percent less than the national average of those with college degrees. But it’s tied for the third-lowest high school dropout rate in the nation.

The numbers provide a background for the upcoming state Capitol debate on spending and taxes for the 2011-13 state budget. Across America the word “taxes” has been demonized by politicians and the media.

Politicians and pundits will say Wisconsin can’t be competitive in creating jobs if taxes aren’t reduced. But the latest federal numbers show unemployment in the state is running more than two percent below the national average.

More than 40 years ago when Republican Warren Knowles was governor, the state slogan was “We like it here.”

The statistics suggest the Knowles-era slogan may still be appropriate.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

One comment

  1. Read your recent article in 50 PLUS encouraging “coming home” for seniors. Many spend 6 months and one day in warmer climates with low or no state taxes and are able to avoid paying Wisconsin taxes. I think these part time residents should be held to paying 50% Wisconsin tax based on the amount of time they do spend here.

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