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Wisconsin’s budget basics
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Wisconsin’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2021 were $59.4 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2021 were $2.7 trillion, ranging from $4.7 billion in Wyoming to $512.8 billion in California.
Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.
Per the US Census Bureau, Wisconsin’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $56.0 billion in FY 2019 (the most recent year census data were available), or $9,611 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $10,161.
Wisconsin’s largest spending areas per capita were public welfare ($2,340) and elementary and secondary education ($2,110). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.
Wisconsin’s combined state and local general revenues were $55.0 billion in FY 2019, or $9,442 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,563. Wisconsin uses all major state and local taxes. After federal transfers, Wisconsin’s largest sources of per capita revenue were property taxes ($1,684) and individual income taxes ($1,504).
Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, was elected in 2018 with 50 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2022.
Wisconsin has a divided government. Republicans control both the Assembly (61 Republicans to 38 Democrats) and Senate (21 Republicans to 12 Democrats). All Wisconsin Assembly seats are on the ballot in 2022 because members serve two-year terms. Senators serve four-year terms; roughly half the senatorial seats are on the ballot in 2022, and the other half will be up for election in 2024.
Wisconsin’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints
Wisconsin uses a biennial budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget, but it can carry a deficit over into the following year. Wisconsin further limits both spending and revenue growth. These are binding rules and require a legislative supermajority or vote of the people to override them. Wisconsin also requires a supermajority vote for any legislation that increases the state’s general sales, individual income, or corporate income tax. Wisconsin limits both total authorized debt and debt service incurred by the state.
(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)
Wisconsin’s current budget
Governor Evers has not released a supplemental budget proposal (the state uses a biennial budget). He gave his state of the state address in February 2022.
Wisconsin enacted its FY 2022-2023 biennial budget in July 2021. The enacted budget included $19.1 billion in general fund spending for FY 2022 $20.3 billion in FY 2023. The budget also included a series of tax cuts, including reducing property taxes and lowering the state’s second highest income tax rate from 6.27 percent to 5.3 percent.
Under the American Rescue Plan, Wisconsin will receive $2.5 billion in direct state fiscal aid and $1.9 billion in local government aid from the federal government. As of January 2022, Wisconsin had spent part of its ARP funds on economic development and broadband expansion.
According to NASBO, Wisconsin’s recent expenditure totals (general fund spending/total spending, including federal transfers) were:
FY 2021: $18.3 billion/$59.4 billion
FY 2020: $17.3 billion/$51.8 billion
FY 2019: $17.2 billion/$50.2 billion
For more on Wisconsin’s budget, see
Wisconsin’s economic trends
Wisconsin’s per capita income (per the Bureau of Economic Analysis) was $58,564 in 2021, ranking 27th among the states. It was below both the national average of $63,444 and the Great Lakes regional average of $59,346. The state’s median household income (five-year estimate) was $63,293 in 2020, ranking 24th among the states and below the national average of $64,994. Wisconsin’s poverty rate was 11 percent in 2020 (five-year estimate), below the national rate of 12.8 percent.
Although Wisconsin’s averages tell a story about the entire state, Wisconsin is composed of diverse localities. For example, the city of Milwaukee’s median household income was $43,125, and its poverty rate was 24.6 percent; the city of Mequon’s median household income was $128,403, and its poverty rate was 4.1 percent.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has historically been below the national average, and in recent years it has been among the lowest in the country. (See how COVID-19 is affecting state employment and earnings data.)
Unemployment rates (like other economic indicators) often vary significantly by race and ethnicity. In Wisconsin, the average unemployment rate in 2021 was 3.1 percent for white residents, 10.7 percent for Black residents, and 5.2 percent for Hispanic or Latino residents. (This is preliminary data. See the 2020 data for a more detailed breakdown of state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity.)