The Delafield-based Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) on Tuesday issued a report listing ways the free-market research group believes Wisconsin’s state government can become leaner and more responsive.
Titled “Reimagining Wisconsin Government for the 21st Century,” the document is the product of a year and half of research. It proposes the kind of decentralization that Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has suggested for the federal government by moving some of the public workforces out of Washington, D.C. so it can more closely work with local communities.
“Government in Madison is in need of reform,” the report states. “The government has become too bloated, slow, and disconnected from the citizens of Wisconsin. We need to find a new way to reduce the size of government, reduce the physical footprint in Madison, and make it more responsive to the people it is intended to serve.”
Major elements of the government-reform blueprint include contracting out government activities to private vendors as well as using digital and automative tools to cut down on the need for staffing.
The urgency of taking cost-cutting steps, IRG’s report asserted, is discernible when one looks at the growth of state spending of taxpayer dollars over the last two decades. Whereas the 1999-01 budget spent $44.2 billion, the current budget spends just over twice that amount. At $8,797, Wisconsin ranks 14th in terms of state per-capita spending. Texas and Florida, by contrast, spend around half as much per capita at $4,668 and $3,987, respectively.
IRG principally ascribed this lower spending in states like Texas and Florida to those states eschewing an income tax, thereby forcing fiscal discipline on their bureaucracies, so their residents are not overtaxed.
In addition to changing the state tax structure and outsourcing government services, the institute suggests relocating state government offices outside Madison. IRG anticipates this would have the effect of boosting middle-class employment in other regions and shoring up local healthcare systems with many fully insured patients. Another proposed change would entail selling some state office buildings to interested developers.
IRG noted its proposals clash strongly with Governor Tony Evers’s policy agenda as expressed in his recently unveiled $104 billion biennial budget request — a $16 billion increase over current spending. The think tank also posited that the Badger State’s big-government approach is being rebuked elsewhere, including in the neighboring state of Iowa, which has embraced the kind of modernization IRG urges.
“Plagued with backlogs, worsening relationships with the business community, and underutilization of modern technology, Wisconsin state government still operates under a bloated, inefficient and outdated 19th century model of governance,” IRG state budget and government reform director Alex Ignatowski said. “Meanwhile, states across the nation – including our Midwest neighbor in Iowa – are modernizing the structure and function of their state governments. It’s time to move Wisconsin into the 21st century with bold, bipartisan solutions that actually meet the needs of citizens.”
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Wisconsin Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Wisconsin Capitol” by Neil Bates.