1st Quarter 2018 President’s Message

By Rob Henken

After such a busy year of planning and deliberation, it’s hard to believe the Wisconsin Policy Forum is now three months old. Of course, three months is far too soon to declare “mission accomplished,” but a brief progress report certainly is in order.

In my last message in early January as the Public Policy Forum’s president, I reflected on the three broad reasons why we felt the merger with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance was in the best interest of PPF and our community. With no offense intended toward our new members and contributors from WISTAX, I thought it would make sense to organize my progress report around those three points.

  • A great opportunity to extend the Forum’s focus to State government. Here, that promise already is being realized. Through the use of Taxpayer and Focus — two traditional WISTAX publications that have concentrated on statewide issues — we have already produced analyses of the State’s fiscal health, looked at statewide teacher workforce trends, and compared Wisconsin’s education spending levels to those of other states. These publications have met our goal of expanding to state government our traditional use of fiscal metrics and trend data to shed light on fiscal accountability and emerging policy challenges.
  • Increasing the impact of our research. This goal receives a grade of incomplete, in large part because several major research projects that were underway at the time of the merger have not yet been released. That soon will change, however. Within the next two months, we’ll be publishing reports on the City of Racine’s fiscal condition; the community-wide impact of the Medical College of Wisconsin; state workforce development funding; potential strategies to finance a new Milwaukee County justice center; and our annual analysis of the Milwaukee Public Schools budget. Each of those reports has both local and statewide policy and fiscal implications and each will test our ability to effectively use our new organizational framework to disseminate our findings and prompt thoughtful consideration of our policy options and conclusions.
  • Upgrading our product to meet the challenges of the digital age. Again, this is a work in progress, but stay tuned for some big developments. The biggest will be the unveiling of our new website — sometime this spring — which will be a major upgrade from the previous PPF and WISTAX versions. We’ll also be holding our first policy webinar sometime in May on research that will appear in back-to-back editions of Taxpayer on the impacts of state property tax limits. Later this year, we’ll be rolling out new uses of Tableau and interactive databases, and we still hope to add podcasts to our array of research products as we seek to make our research more accessible and digestible.

Overall, while the challenges posed by integrating databases, merging dues structures, and reconciling distinct research traditions continue to be daunting, I’m pleased with our progress. We’ve held two well-attended events — our annual meeting in Milwaukee and a kick-off reception in Madison — and the demand for our policy insights from statewide news media and elected officials is growing. Most important, our research productivity is reaching the heights we expected.

I will continue to use this space to update our stakeholders on organizational milestones and challenges. In the meantime, I hope you’ll feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail to let me know how we’re doing.