Free-market advocates see Wisconsin’s showing on the top one-quarter of U.S. News’ latest best states list as evidence that the state’s low-taxation policies under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker have benefited residents.
The U.S. News analysis, which examined how states have been performing based on eight broad categories, including health care, public education and economic growth, ranked Wisconsin the 11th best state. Categories were weighted based on poll results that showed which priorities residents viewed as the most important for state governments to address.
“Health care and education are the top priorities for U.S. residents, according to a survey of tens of thousands of people across the county,” Deidre McPhillips, senior data editor at U.S. News & World Report, told The Center Square in an email. “Wisconsin lands at 14th in each of these categories. The Badger State ranks sixth in opportunity and 10th in natural environment, with the fourth best gender parity in labor force participation.”
In the other broad categories examined in the analysis, Wisconsin rated 24th in economic growth, 30th in infrastructure, 14th in fiscal stability and 30th in crime and corrections.
In the health care category, 7.4 percent of Wisconsin residents lacked health insurance, compared to 13.8 percent for the nation as a whole. The state’s obesity rate, however, was slightly above the national average, the study concludes.
In public education, Wisconsin’s high school graduation rate stood at 88.2 percent, more than four points above the national graduation rate. Annual job growth in the state over a recent three-year period, however, trailed the national rate of 1.2 percent, according to the study.
And Wisconsin’s poverty rate, 11.3 percent, was more than two points below the U.S. rate. But its average household income of $59,305 was below the national average, $60,336, according to U.S. News.
Violent crimes in the state numbered 320 per 100,000 residents, which is below the national figure of 394 crimes per 100,000. But the juvenile incarceration rate in Wisconsin was slightly above the national average, the analysis found.
Chris Rochester, communications director for the MacIver Institute in Madison, said the U.S. News ranking confirms that Wisconsin offers its residents opportunities, employment options and a great quality of life. And it argues against efforts by Democratic lawmakers and the state’s new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, to pursue higher spending policies, according to Rochester.
“Contrary to the left's claims that our state will go down the drain if legislators don't accept Evers' big-spending budget, Wisconsin already has a great education system, 95 percent of our population has health insurance, unemployment is near an all-time low, there are more jobs than people to fill them, and revenue keeps coming in stronger than expected,” he told The Center Square in an email.
Overall, Wisconsin is in a strong position due to conservative policies enacted during the Walker years, according to Rochester. A May 15 state Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo predicted that state revenues over the next three years will exceed previous expectations by more than $750 million, according to the MacIver Institute.
This "also should serve as a reminder to Gov. Evers that lower taxes, sensible regulation and prudent government spending is a recipe for economic growth and prosperity for all Wisconsinites,” a post on the institute’s website states.
Other research by the MacIver Institute indicates that births to Wisconsin women age 15 to 19 fell 35 percent over five years, suggesting success at reducing the teen pregnancy rate. And Wisconsin’s high school graduation rate is second only to Iowa among Midwestern states, the institute concluded.
Washington finished first on the U.S. News ranking, while Louisiana came in last.
The analysis placed greater weight on the health care, education and economy categories since a national poll found Americans wanted state governments to give these issues top priority.
“This is the only part of the Best States analysis that is subjective,” McPhillips said.