The slate of legislative candidates for forthcoming state elections is now set. The 2014 campaign features fewer candidates (246) than 2010 (314) or 2012 (297)–indeed the fewest since 2006 (243). Numbers are particularly down for the assembly (208 vs. 273 in 2010 and 261 in 2012). Of 116 legislative races, 40 feature only one candidate, and 55 feature only one major party candidate.
Could it be that future state tax and spending decisions are significantly impacted by the "dog days" of summer in a non-budget year when the legislature is not in session? Quite likely.
State legislative candidates have already filed nomination papers, and August partisan primary elections are just around the corner. Combined, the two determine a surprising number of the lawmakers who will make fiscal policy as part of the 2015-17 state budget.
2014: Diminished choice
Of 116 state senate ( 17) and assembly (99) seats on this November's ballot, 40–more than one third–are uncontested. Almost all are in the lower house (38), and 23 of them will be Republican.
The lack of electoral choice increases if districts with no contest between major party candidates are included. Close to half of legislative candidates (55, or 47%)–25 Democrats and 30 Republicans–are virtually assured election. Since the two parties have crafted state law to their advantage, election of write-in, third-party, or independent candidates is difficult at best,as history readily confirms.
In the assembly, 52 of the 99 districts–over half–offer no general election choice between the two main parties. Since 29 of those have only Republican candidates, the GOP is almost 60% of the way toward a third 'consecutive session in control.
Less candidate interest, too
The value of mere party nomination in an "off year appears to be especially significant in 2014. Comparing nomination paper activity since 2000 shows how this election year differs from prior ones (see table below).
Candidates by house. The total number of candidates in 2014 is down from the prior two elections: 246 vs. 314 in 2010 and 297 in 2012. It is also among the lowest number over the eight elections; 2000 (238) and 2006 (243) were marginally lower.
The same pattern holds for state assembly seats: 208 candidates is markedly fewer than the previous three elections and approaches the lows of2000 (203) and 2006 (207). At 38, the count of state senate candidates is less than in the last gubernatorial year (2010) but on par or slightly above other years shown .
• Candidates by party. By political affiliation, the number of Republican candidates (133) is lower than in 2010 (171) but higher than in other years dating back to 2000. The number of Democratic candidates is off from two years ago (104 vs. 164) and below all other elections beginning in 2000, except 2002 (102).
A similar pattern holds for independent and minor party candidates. This year, they number 'nine. tieing the decade low in 2006. Four years ago, the number of such candidates was a robust 26. The count was also noticeably higher in 2002 and 2004 (both 20).
Bailing out Number of retiring lawmakers unusually high
What makes smaller candidate counts this year even more surprising is the unusually large number of retiring law-makers (29 of 117, or one-fourth). In the senate, seven (41 %) of 17 senators up for election this year are stepping down, three Democrats and four Republicans. Conventional wisdom is that the 18-15 GOP majority in the upper house could move up or down by a seat but probably not much more.
More.than one.in five (22 of 99) assembly members are also stepping down. Republicans (15) retiring outnumber Democrats (7) by more than two-to-one. Typically, these "open" seats would expand the field of aspirants; however totals are off. Despite 22 leaving the lower chamber, 42 face no major-party opposition in November.
Reading the tea leaves
That GOP candidate totals (133) surpass most recent years but not 2010 (171) suggests a favorable environment for the party in 2014 but not the wave they enjoyed in 2010. Whether historically low Democratic numbers mean party discouragement or reflect a strategy of electoral focus remains to be seen.
State Tax Rankings: Digging a Little Deeper
State and local tax burdens are frequently compared and ranked, but the proverbial devil is often in the details. For example, at $20,000 of income, a family of four in Wisconsin had the 33rd highest income tax load in the U.S., but at $75,000 that burden was seventh highest. Similarly, an owner of a $150,000 house in Milwaukee paid $3,846 in 2012 property taxes, fourth highest among large cities across the nation, while a Rice Lake owner paid $3,229, seventh highest relative to other small-town homeowners.
Wisconsin is one of 14 states with a "sound" pension system. State pension systems are considered "sound" if they have a funded ratio (the measure of a state's ability to meet its future pension payout obligations) of 80% or higher. Of surrounding states, Iowa is the only other with a sound system. Minnesota's funding ratio falls in the 70 - 79% range, while Michigan's system is less than 70% funded.
Nine states, including Illinois, have pension systems that are less than 60% funded' lllinois has the largest unfunded pension liability in the country, totaling $100 billion in 2012. Lawmakers have since overhauled the Illinois system and hope the system is fully funded by 2044. The plan, which cut retirees' annual cost-of-living increases and raised the retirement age for workers 45 and younger, is being challenged by unions in court.
A Closer Look at Public Debt How is Wisconsin Doing?
While federal debt continues to climb, Wisconsin's is showing some signs of improvement. Combined state-local debt grew 0.3% in 2013, its since 2008. State debt here totaled $13.7 billion, up 1.6% from 2012. Local debt fell 1.0% to $13.7 billion, its second consecutive decline. School, county, village, and town debt all declined last year.
Cigarette Smuggling Rises
Wisconsin ranked fifth among the states for cigarette smuggling in 2012 vs. 18th in 2006. Smuggled cigarettes accounted for 34.6% of cigarette consumption here, up from 13.1 % in 2006. Wisconsin's cigarette tax increased from $0.77 to $2.52 per pack during 2006-12.
Wisconsin is one of twelve states in which smuggling accounts for greater than one quarter of cigarette consumption. New York (56.9%) had the highest rate, followed by Arizona (51.5%), New Mexico (48.1%), and Washington (48.0%).
States with the most smuggling tend to tax cigarettes more heavily than their neighbors. New York charges $4.35 per pack, while neighboring Pennsylvania's tax is $1.60. The cigarette tax in Wisconsin is $2.52 per pack, more than twice illinois' ($0.98).
Sources for these articles Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance National Conference of State Legislatures Tax Foundation