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July 2011 - Recovery and State Budgets

June 2011 – WRS

Two key state agency sites are the Department of Employee Trust Funds, which offers a wealth of information about the operation of the WRS and other public employee benefits, and the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, which  invests retirement system funds. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has published a detailed Informational Report (#84) on the WRS. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ article is available here and the Pew Center has links to a variety of reports on public retirement systems and other public policy and public administration issues.

April 2011 -- Tax Exempt Property

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series “Trouble With Taxes” includes the following articles:

The Summary of Tax Exemption Devicesis produced by the Department of Revenue and posted on its website as part of the biennial budget cycle.

The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future describes its Too Many Loopholes  report as an overview of “the numerous property tax exemptions that drain revenue from communities and tilt the weight of tax responsibility onto homeowners and small businesses. The report also offers solutions that increase funding for schools, cities and counties while leveling the tax paying field to include major institutions that currently use services but pay nothing."

January 2011 -- Budget Process

Check wisctowns.com for budget updates. Two other essential sources of budget information are the Sdtate Buget Office (housed in the Department of Administration), which advises the Governor on budget issues; and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), which provides similar assistance to the Legislature. More useful information on the Wisconsin budget process is available from the Legislative Reference Bureau and the Legislative Council. Throughout the budget cycle, the Wheeler Report and WisPolitics track developments and post links to press releases and media coverage of the budget.

December 2010 – Redistricting

Various legislative service agencies have produced useful background materials on redistricting, beginning with a Legislative Redistricting Homepage, including the following specific resources:

The Legislative Reference Bureau produced an overview of the redistricting process in 2002 that is still useful, along with another memo distributed in 2001. Another useful item is a concise list of relevant state statutes. The Applied Population Laboratory (APL), a group of research and outreach professionals located within the Department of Rural Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has posted various Census and redistricting materials on their website. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is another resource that has posted extensive redistricting-related materials, including a report with Wisconsin-specific information.

November 2010 -- The Legislative Council & Other Legislative Service Agencies

The Legislative Council’s website includes clear links on its homepage to its publications, administrative rule resources and more. Study Committees are established by the Joint Legislative Council to examine major issues and problems identified by the Legislature. The study committees are made up of Legislators and citizens who are interested in or knowledgeable about the study topic. 2010 Interim study committees include:

The Legislative Audit Bureau  conducts objective audits and evaluations of state agency operations. The results of these evaluations are provided to the Legislature, along with recommendations for improvements in agency operations.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) provides fiscal and program information and analyses to the Wisconsin Legislature, its committees, and individual legislators – and most of it is accessible on their website.

The Legislative Reference Bureau’s role is to serve the Wisconsin Legislature and the public by providing nonpartisan legal, research and library services. It’s signature product is the  Wisconsin Blue Book but it offers much more, including preparation of Town Law Forms.

Committee meetings are videotaped by WisconsinEye and are archived on its website.

October 2010 – Consolidation Studies

The Legislative Council creates special study committees every two years, after the Legislature has completed its regular business, including the 2010 Local Service Consolidation Committee. The Special Committee is directed to “review current law and practice regarding the provision of services by local units of government in order to determine whether current law should be amended to facilitate the methods by which local units of government can partner to efficiently and cost-effectively provide services, including police, fire, and educational services, to their constituents.” Member List.

The Local Government Institute of Wisconsin (LGI), a collaboration of the associations representing the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Wisconsin Towns Association and the Alliance of Cities, collaborated on a study entitled “A Roadmap for Government Transformation.” The LGI explains that the study was intended “to build upon the work of and take to implementation the results of other commissions and task forces organized over the past decades to make recommendations for streamlining local government.” LGI contracted with Baker Tilly to conduct the study, which is an evaluation of the structure of and relationship between local government in Wisconsinand the success factors for greater alignment between jurisdictions in a region. Click here to download full report.

The Ohio Commission on Local Government Reform and Collaboration was mandated to “develop recommendations on ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of local government operations, to achieve cost savings for taxpayers, and to facilitate economic development in this state.” Commission Final Report - Building a Better Ohio: Creating Collaboration in Governance.

In Michigan, Governor Jennifer Granholm created an Emergency Financial Advisory Panel to “assess the current state government financial crisis and offer recommendations on how best to avoid similar crises in the years ahead.” It report is entitled “Michigan’s Defining Moment: Report of the Emergency Financial Advisory Panel.” The Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency “produces a wide variety of work products designed to provide the Michigan Senate with unbiased information regarding a wide range of public policy issues.” These include “State Notes,” which provide in-depth analysis of “topics of Legislative interest.” One of those studies, entitled, “Local Government Consolidation: Assessing the Evidence for Cost Savings and Economic Improvement.”It includes some very useful insights. The Michigan Townships Association (MTA) released a study showing that “smaller government is more efficient and saves taxpayer dollars. While a few interest groups are advocating for the consolidation of local governments as a way to reduce the cost of government, the MTA study shows the results of such consolidations would be the exact opposite. The MTA found that creating bigger governments would not save money or improve efficiencies.

In Pennsylvania township government has been under attack since the release of a 2003 Brookings Institution report claiming that bigger government is better and during the current legislative session a bill was proposed that directly threatened the viability of towns -- in the name of governmental efficiency. The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors has responded with a robust and fact-driven campaign, including direct challenges to the claim that “bigger is cheaper.”

The Municipal Research and Services Center in the State of Washington is a private, non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington whose mission is “to promote excellence in Washington local government through professional consultation, research and information services. While the 2003 report entitled "Is Municipal Consolidation the Answer? (or ... Is Bigger Always Better?)" is somewhat dated, but is still of interest and is archived on the center’s site.

July 2010 – Emergency Management Reports

June 2010: Wisconsin Tax Rankings

April 2010: Public Retirement Benefit Obligations

February 2010: Climate Change Legislation

An abundance of state- and national-level information is available about the climate change issue and the pending legislation. Given the scope and dynamic nature of the climate change debate, one way to track developments is by monitoring the Wheeler Report andWisPolitics. A good place to gain an overview of the legislation is the Legislative Council’s Climate Change Legislation landing page, which includes reports entitled Overview of Legislation and Description of Legislation (both dated January 7, 2010). You can also link directly to the two companion bills: AB 649 and SB 450. Background information about the task force and its report is available on the landing page for the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming. EPA's Climate Change Site offers links to an array of climate-related resources from federal agencies and elsewhere.

January 2010: Connections 2030

December 2009: Small Programs

November 2009: Emergency Government

September 2009: Economy

The state Department of Revenue produces quarterly economic forecasts to aid in the development of revenue projections. The DOR landing page forecast summary and a link to the forecast is available or click here to see a pdf copy of the report. Unemployment data are released by the state Department of Workforce Development. National economic trend data and forecasts can be found at the U.S. Department of Commerce and Federal Reserve Board sites.