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 noted two problem areas. The new organization 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 2017—from $1.45 billion a year to $2.63 billion.

In the same period, the national consumer price index, which measures inflation, increased 9 percent.

The other problem area, Knapp said, is funding highways and other transportation programs.

Between fiscal 2011 and 2017, 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 to 2016). Wisconsin Policy Forum 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.

Other benchmarks:

  • All-funds state spending up 10 percent: All state spending (state and federal taxes and fees, federal aid 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 6.3 percent. 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 3.4 percent: The fiscal bureau reports the 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. 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 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. The Wisconsin Policy Forum 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 stevenscotwalters@gmail.com.

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