4th Quarter 2018 President’s Message

By Rob Henken

When the merger between the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and Public Policy Forum became official at the stroke of midnight last December 31, I must admit that I felt both a great deal of excitement and a healthy amount of trepidation.

Could we continue WISTAX’s prolific analysis of state and local government finances while also maintaining PPF’s ability to effectively probe Greater Milwaukee’s most pressing policy challenges?

Could we maintain the support of both statewide WISTAX contributors, who were concerned we would focus exclusively on southeast Wisconsin; and Milwaukee-based PPF members, who worried we would be all-consumed by state budget and policy matters?

Could we successfully marry two well-established but distinct business models and cultures and refresh our work product to meet the ever-changing standards of a digital world?

Now that the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s inaugural year has come to a close, I don’t think it’s immodest to say each of those questions has been answered with a resounding “yes.” Indeed, while our new organization still is a work in progress, we can reflect with pride on the following:

  • We published a combined total of 55 research products, including Focus policy briefs, The Wisconsin Taxpayer magazine-style pieces, lengthier studies, and digital products. On average, our followers and supporters received policy analysis from us at least once a week. Also, while we continued our traditional focus on state and local government and school district finances, we were able to broaden our research portfolio to analyze non-fiscal issues like the state’s psychiatrist shortage, child care quality, and affordable rental housing and eviction challenges.
  • Of those 55 research publications, 38 covered statewide issues while 17 were most relevant to southeast Wisconsin. That breakdown shows we met the output of previous years with respect to both types of coverage, but it also misses the larger point that virtually all of our work was designed to be informative to policymakers and citizens across the state. In fact, we made a concerted effort throughout the year to explore how key Greater Milwaukee policy issues applied to Wisconsin’s other local governments and school districts; and, conversely, how important trends discovered through statewide analysis specifically impacted the state’s largest city and county.
  • On the financial front, we set a goal of obtaining $450,000 in 2018 from former PPF members and WISTAX contributors, which would have been only a minor fall-off from the combined amount collected by the two legacy organizations in 2017. We knew this would be a challenge, but I am thrilled to report that we have met that goal. For 2019, we’ll be introducing a new membership dues structure as we continue our conversion away from the WISTAX subscription model to a membership model that will ensure our research is available to all.
  • Finally, we made great strides in fulfilling one of the most exciting opportunities generated by the merger, which was the opportunity to use our expanded staff capacity to modernize our research portfolio and communications strategies. We have incorporated interactive charts and graphs into several of our digital products, improved the quality of our report videos, and honed our ability to use social media to disseminate key research findings and spur media coverage of our work. Our Facebook followers have increased by almost 50% since the start of the year while monthly views of our tweets have soared from about 5,000 in January to more than 67,000 in November. Meanwhile, in November alone, our research received in-depth coverage by traditional print and broadcast media on 44 distinct occasions encompassing 25 major media outlets across the state (and that doesn’t include dozens of additional media hits in weekly publications).

While we’re very proud of our work in 2018, we need to hear what you have to say. Within the next couple of weeks, you’ll be receiving our annual member/contributor survey, which seeks your input on the quality, relevance, and objectivity of our research.

Also, in case you’re wondering about our plans for 2019, stay tuned for our first Focus in 2019, which will contain a sneak preview of our upcoming research agenda and our plans to tackle the next state budget.

I hope you had a terrific holiday season, and please feel free to contact me with any thoughts or comments.