News & Updates | 1st Quarter 2023

By Jeffrey Schmidt

President’s Message


If you’re wonky enough to be talking about the state budget around the office water cooler or among friends and relatives (yes, I admit you would have to be pretty wonky to do that!), then I would bet one of your main points of discussion is about how much and whose taxes to cut. Or, if you have school-age children or grandchildren, you might also be touching upon Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to dramatically increase spending on K-12 schools.
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Forum Cohosts Madison Mayoral Debate


On Feb. 27, the Forum was proud to cohost a Madison mayoral candidate debate with Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway and her challenger in the April 4 general election, former deputy mayor and former Madison school board president Gloria Reyes.

This was the first public meeting of the two candidates after the primary election that advanced Reyes and Rhodes-Conway to the general election. In what the Wisconsin State Journal described in its coverage as a “lively but cordial” debate, the candidates aired their differences on issues including housing, transit services, public safety, city taxes and debt, and Madison’s unhoused population.

The event was cohosted with Downtown Madison, Inc., and the Hoan Group, and held at Madison Public Library Central Library. It marked the first time the Forum convened a debate between candidates for office in Madison. We expect it will be the first of more to come in future election cycles, so stay tuned!

Forum Research Helping to Guide Opioid Settlement Spending

When Milwaukee County officials approached us last year to seek our guidance on potential uses of their opioid settlement dollars, we were both encouraged and flattered. With more than $70 million on the way from national opioid lawsuit settlements, we applauded county leaders for seeking independent analysis of how the dollars might best be used to help individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs). At the same time, we were flattered that they chose us for that assignment.


Our report, Road to Recovery, was released last November, and we are now further encouraged to see a report from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services that outlines for the Board of Supervisors how proposed uses of the first $11.5 million in opioid settlement dollars align with our research. The report maps the proposed investments against the five areas that our report suggested for prioritization: residential treatment and housing, addressing issues caused by federal funding restrictions, investing in BHS’ role as coordinator and gatekeeper, addressing other pressing service gaps, and bolstering prevention and harm reduction.

The report finds that projects totaling about $8 million of the $11.5 million are consistent with our recommendations. And while we’re not keeping score, it’s certainly gratifying to know that our advice is a key measuring stick for the county as it seeks to maximize this unprecedented opportunity to invest in SUD services. 

Member Survey Offers Helpful Feedback 


In January, we asked our members to complete our annual member survey, which helps us stay up to date on what our members think about our research, events, and communication. You can view a summary of the results on our website. 

We’re pleased to see our members continue to be very satisfied with our research, with particularly high satisfaction ratings for our accuracy. We’re also excited that our members are becoming more familiar with and finding value in our DataTools, our newest research products that bring together large amounts of data in an interactive format.

Overwhelmingly, our members appreciate the mix of in-person and virtual events that we provide, so we will continue to offer our popular events in a variety of formats that allow members to participate in the way that works best for them.

We also received great feedback on additional ways to communicate our research. Check out our new video series, “Inside Scoop” where researchers share their thoughts on the latest WPF research.

Thanks to all of our members who shared their thoughts with us this year!

Membership Spotlight


The mission of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association is to provide programs and services to help members be successful. Membership is composed of thousands of restaurant and hospitality businesses representing virtually every size and style of establishment in the state. Restaurateur members include fine dining establishments, mom-and-pop supper clubs, small cafes, quick serve outlets, corporate chain restaurants, institutional foodservice operations, catering businesses, and hotel and motel foodservices, to name a few. In addition, WRA has hundreds of supplier members that provide goods and services necessary for the restaurant industry. With all industry stakeholders united under one association, the WRA serves as the chief champion and advocate for the restaurant industry, fulfilling its mission through advocacy, education, and communication. We asked Kristine Hillmer, the Association’s President and CEO, to share her thoughts on membership in the Forum.

“How has your membership in the Wisconsin Policy Forum been a resource for you and your organization?” 

The Wisconsin Policy Forum provides research and data critical to understanding and navigating the business conditions in our state. For WRA members, issues such as workforce trends, economic indicators, or social conditions can significantly impact budgets and business operations. Because of the work done by WPF, our members can adjust and pivot as needed. During COVID, WPF’s research on the uneven recovery for Wisconsin jobs in July 2022 was instrumental in WRA telling the story of its members.  The unbiased economic data confirmed what our restaurants were experiencing – our industry took the largest hit financially and our members faced a steep road to recovery.

Contact Info: Kristine Hillmer, President & CEO

Upcoming Research

Affordable Housing in Waukesha County: Though Waukesha County residents have relatively high incomes and home ownership rates, they still face challenges that include some of the most expensive housing in the state. This study sponsored by the Waukesha County Business Alliance, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties, and the Waukesha County Center for Growth will look at the county as a whole as well as the municipalities of Brookfield, Sussex, Oconomowoc, and Waukesha.  The report will examine trends in the housing market in the county as well as local land use policies to identify barriers to affordable housing and potential solutions.

Early Childhood Costs: Despite the importance of childcare for Wisconsin workers and employers, families have difficulty affording it and providers can face challenges in meeting their costs and turning a profit. This study will make clear to an often mystified public how the labor-intensive nature of child care results in a market that is costly for families but still fails to provide an adequate income for child care workers. 

School Budgets and Education: In the coming months, we will examine the impact of the pandemic, state budget, and federal aid on the Milwaukee and Madison school districts’ finances as part of our annual budget briefs. We will also publish a brief looking at teacher turnover in Wisconsin schools and update our popular School DataTool covering the finances, students, and outcomes (where available) of all 421 Wisconsin districts. 

State Budget and Taxes: After publishing our biennial state budget brief, we will continue to track the state budget and plans for using the state’s unprecedented surplus. Future topics include a look at competing income tax proposals and higher education funding.

New Faces at the Forum


Sebel Fusi is our spring 2023 intern at the Forum. A Milwaukee native, Fusi is a senior Chancellor’s Scholar at UW-Madison double majoring in finance and economics with a certificate in public policy. In summer 2021, Sebel served as Sophomore Summer Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company, with a focus on consulting in the public sector. He will be returning to McKinsey & Co. as a full-time Business Analyst following graduation in May 2023.

Working Together for a Better Wisconsin

For more than a century, the Forum and its predecessor organizations have produced impartial research and analysis that has generated greater understanding of complex policy issues and improved the quality of public policy decision-making in Wisconsin. In addition to maintaining your ongoing membership, we ask you to consider making a donation to further facilitate our ambitious research and program agenda. Please contact Katie Hofman, our Fund Development and Membership Director, at or by phone at (414) 435-1130 to discuss how  your charitable gift can advance our shared goal of producing objective, independent research to address state and local issues throughout Wisconsin.

Thank You!

In these turbulent times, we are especially grateful for the support of our members and sponsors. Thank you for reading our research, attending or tuning in for our events, participating in our committee meetings, and maintaining your membership with us. 

We are supported by hundreds of corporations, nonprofits, local governments, school districts, and individuals from across the state of Wisconsin. The following members provide particularly generous support that ensures Wisconsin will continue to benefit from having one of the nation’s most successful nonpartisan, independent public policy research organizations.

Pillars of Public Policy

Sentinels of Civil Conduct