State and Local Government

Like other states, Wisconsin government generates most of its revenue through taxes.  The largest source of tax revenue in Wisconsin is property taxes, followed by individual income taxes and sales taxes.  You may be working in one of the many communities or counties in Wisconsin which adds its own tax on top of the state sales tax, to generate revenue.  All 72 Wisconsin Counties have the option of adding a half-a-percent to the state’s 5% sales tax, the revenues from which go to the county coffers, and most Wisconsin Counties have added this half-a-percent.

Sometimes, the state will create special “taxing districts” to generate revenue for a specific purpose.  Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers, was built from revenue generated by a special sales tax in the Milwaukee metropolitan area.  Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, was renovated with revenue from a similar tax imposed on residents of the Fox Valley area.

A growing source of revenue for both State and Local Government are user fees.  While not technically taxes, they produce revenues for governments that are theoretically directly related to the service provided.  User fees include driver licensing fees, license plate fees, hunters licenses, building permit fees, various registration fees, and so on.  User fees (increases and introductions) are often used by politicians, whether partisan or non-partisan, to avoid having to say they are increasing taxes.

Two quick resources for tax information are the State Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, an independent organization.

The State Revenue Department website has a huge collection of links to sites of relevant state government agencies, in addition to lots of useful information about how state taxes are collected, and links to the actual state laws that created the tax.  The site also has links to useful news stories about avoiding scams at tax time, and Revenue Department activities.

Two of the great tools for reporters on the website are the section devoted to delinquent taxpayers whose names have been posted on the internet, and the section devoted to finding information about the state’s relatively recently enacted tax intercept program.  This web page has links to lists of the biggest tax delinquents in the state, arranged alphabetically and by amount owed.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance is not a government organization.  It’s a private, independent organization.  The Alliance helps citizens understand how state and local government work, and provides a huge amount of data on how taxes are collected and spent by state and municipal governments.   The WTA website contains names and e-mail addresses for Alliance officials, who are very helpful in helping reporters understand and simplify sometimes complicated tax questions.  There is a resources section of the website with links to many organizations which reporters deal with, such as the state towns and counties associations, and state government sites.

The facts and figures section of the site is a treasure-trove of information for reporters, with all sorts of comparisons of tax expenditures by counties, villages, school systems, and so on.  It can provide you with a wealth of ideas for stories about how our elected officials are spending the taxpayers’ money.