Creating Wisconsin's Future

Wisconsin has hobbled local governments by tying them to one primary financing mechanism: the property tax. The League is working to jump start the conversation about Wisconsin’s future, and the financial tools local governments will need to meet that future for their citizens.

"Dollars and Sense: Is it time for a new municipal financing framework in Wisconsin?"   

A report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum released February, 2019. 

Dollars and Sense - Executive Summary (PDF)
Dollars and Sense - Full Report (PDF)
Interactive Charts of the Key Findings (WPF Website) 

League Statement in Response to "Dollars and Sense" (PDF) 

Wisconsin Relies Most on Property Tax in Midwest (WPF Chart)

WPF Midwest reliance on prop tax chart 2019

Dollars and Sense Quick Facts:

  • According to U.S. Census data compiled by Willamette University, in 2015 Wisconsin municipalities received 42.2% of their revenues from the property tax but only 1.6% from sales and income taxes combined. Nationally, municipalities got only 23.3% of their revenues from the property tax with an additional 21.3% from sales and income taxes.
  • Wisconsin municipalities rank seventh nationally among states for being the most reliant on the property tax for their revenues. No other Midwestern state relies so heavily on the property tax and so little on other taxes to pay for municipal services. 
  • The state ranks much lower nationally for its reliance on municipal sales taxes (43rd) and total municipal taxes (26th). The combined state and local sales tax rate in Wisconsin (5.44% on average) is also the lowest in the Midwest.
  • First implemented in 2006, state caps on property tax increases have slowed the growth in municipal levies and helped to lower Wisconsin’s overall tax burden. However, among the 10 states most reliant on municipal property taxes, Wisconsin appears to have the tightest cap on increases, restricting tax growth to the rate of net new construction.
  • Total expenditures for Wisconsin municipalities amounted to $2,205 per capita in 2015, compared to the U.S. average of $3,443, giving this state a national rank of 36th. However, these numbers are not a reliable apples to apples comparison because cities in some states are responsible for more functions than others. Wisconsin ranks 15th nationally for spending by all local governments including municipalities, counties, and schools.

Wisconsin Municipal Property Tax Caps Among Most Restrictive (WPF Table)

WPF levy limit chart 2019

"Dollars & Sense" in the News

Wisconsin is Over-Reliant on the Property Tax, April 12, 2019 Local Perspective blog post by Sharon Eveland, Clintonville City Administrator 

Weighing Local Revenue Options April 11, 2019 via Fresh Take on WHBY

#LOCALGOVMATTERS – PROPERTY TAXATION (Podcast brought to you in partnership by the League, the Wheeler Report and the Wisconsin Counties Association.) March 13, 2019

Tim Kabat: Wisconsin needs a more balanced way to fund local government March 3, 2019 via La Crosse Tribune

"Dollars and Sense" Presentation to the Wauwatosa City Council Committee of the Whole April 2, 2019 by Jerry Deschane 

Report: Wisconsin cities rely heavily on property taxes Feb. 26, 2019 via Superior Telegram

Tuesday on Lake Effect: Municipality Revenue... February 25, 2019 by WUWM

Report: Wisconsin Leans On Property Taxes For Funding More Than Other Midwest States February 21, 2019 via Wisconsin Public Radio 

Wisconsin municipalities rely on property taxes far more than most other states, a report finds February 21, 2019 via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

New report shows how much Wisconsin municipalities rely on property taxes February 21, 2019 via WQOW-Eau Claire

Wisconsin cities rely more on property tax than any other Midwest state, study shows February 21, 2019 via WDJT-Milwaukee

"Here's the Hard Part" President's Message, February 2019, Wisconsin REALTORS® Association

Additional Resources

Strangled by Levy Limits