Wisconsin State Overview
Wisconsin has slipped slightly since the last edition of the index and is now just outside the bottom 10. However, this is one state that may already be improving due to legislative changes since the data cutoff for this study. For example, Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature have agreed to budget cuts in education and other areas, while passing Act 10—which aims to limit the bargaining power of public employee unions (though it is unclear whether this law will survive legal challenges). A study by the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute for Public Policy argues that Act 10 has already saved taxpayers $2 billion.1 Therefore, Wisconsin’s rank is likely to improve in the next edition of Freedom in the 50 States.
Wisconsin ranks near the bottom in economic freedom, due primarily to its poor fiscal policy. Wisconsin’s overall tax burden is very high, as are individual income and property taxes. State spending and debt are roughly average. However, its benefit payments are quite high, as is its level of transportation spending. Moreover, Wisconsin government employment is quite large relative to the private workforce.
Wisconsin fares a lot better in regulatory policy, ranking 15th. It is slightly worse than average in terms of land-use regulation but has passed some eminent domain reforms. Wisconsin’s labor market freedom, occupational freedom, health insurance freedom, and liability system are mediocre. It is not (yet) a right-to-work state, but has avoided mandating a minimum wage above the federal average or requiring employers to buy short-term disability insurance. Wisconsin does not have community rating (though there are small-group rate bands) or rate reviews. Wisconsin has also deregulated cable and telecom. It does quite well in terms of insurance rate filing requirements. However, it is almost a standard deviation worse than the mean on occupational licensing.
Wisconsin performs below average in a number of personal freedom categories. The state has high victimless crimes arrest rates, though its drug enforcement rate is below average. It has the worst gaming laws in the country (social gambling is not allowed) and almost the strictest campaign finance laws. The state also performs below average on gun freedom and travel freedom. Home schools are regulated with some onerous notification requirements. Wisconsin has some of the best alcohol laws in the country, with taxes fairly low across the board. However, its cigarette taxes are very high and smoking bans are extensive. Wisconsin recently enacted a domestic partnership law. Its asset forfeiture laws score well (over one standard deviation better than average).
- Reduce the income tax burden while continuing to cut back spending through cuts in government employment and public employee benefits.
- Pass a right-to-work law, whenever political conditions so allow.
- Reform tobacco and marijuana regulations, using the state’s alcohol-friendly beer, wine, and spirits regulations as a model.