State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide
Wisconsin is one of only ten states earning a top average A grade in legacy costs for fiscal 2017 through 2019. Its fully funded public worker pension—as of 2017—reflects the state’s long history of making actuaries’ annual recommended contributions. The state has minimal health benefit obligations for retirees and finances them on a pay-as-you-go basis.
In contrast, Wisconsin averaged a D, the second-lowest grade possible, in budget forecasting. It lacks consensus revenue estimates and relies exclusively on ones calculated by the state Department of Revenue, an executive branch agency, with no legislative input. Additionally, Wisconsin does not disclose long-term forecasts—those covering three years or more—for expenditures or revenues.
The state earned B averages in budget transparency, reserve funds, and budget maneuvers. Like forty-four other states, a lack of disclosure of deferred infrastructure maintenance costs in budget documents prevented Wisconsin from earning a higher mark in transparency, while the absence of a link between the state’s rainy day fund and historical revenue volatility hurt its reserve funds grade. A pattern of refunding bonds to move payments into future years negatively affected the score in budget maneuvers, which tracks one-time actions used to achieve budgetary balance.
To emphasize the need for clear and comprehensible budgets to inform citizens, promote responsible policymaking, and improve fiscal stability, the Volcker Alliance in 2016 began a study of budgetary and financial reporting practices of all fifty states. The Volcker Alliance’s mission is to improve the effectiveness of the administration of government at all levels. Making state budgeting more transparent and accountable is an important part of that goal.
The report cards found here contain grades of the state's budgetary practices during the fiscal years of 2017 through 2019. Each state received marks in five critical categories, based on their adherence to best practices in several key budgeting indicators. The five categories covered methods used to achieve budgetary balance as well as how budgets and other financial information are disclosed to the public.
States received grades of A to D-minus (there are no “failed states”) for their procedures in estimating revenues and expenditures; their use of one-time actions to balance budgets; how they oversee and use rainy day funds and other fiscal reserves; the adequacy of their funding of public worker retirement and other postemployment benefits; and the quality of transparency of budget and related financial information. The grades are based on research conducted by public finance and budgeting professors and students at eight US schools of public administration or policy. The universities’ research efforts were augmented by Volcker Alliance staff, data consultants at Municipal Market Analytics, and special project consultants Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene.
State Budget Sources
State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses is a resource published by the Volcker Alliance designed to help public officials, policy advocates, journalists, academics, and concerned citizens fully understand the critical fiscal decisions that governors and legislators must make. The guide includes the links below to budgets for this state as well as legislative analyses of budget bills and treasurers’ or comptrollers’ monthly state cash-flow statements; capital spending plans; reports on public-worker pension funding and returns; and reports by local and national fiscal research organizations, bond rating firms, and associations of state fiscal and finance officials.