News & Updates | 2nd Quarter 2023

By Jeffrey Schmidt

President’s message


One of the most disturbing elements of our nation’s increasingly polarized politics is the labeling of compromise as a characteristic of weakness, as opposed to one of effective government in reconciling views of a divided electorate. That’s why it was such a pleasant and reassuring surprise when state and local Republicans and Democrats worked out a deal in Madison that averted a fiscal meltdown for Milwaukee’s two largest local governments and showed that the art of compromise hasn’t been abandoned.
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Forum cites prosecutor, public defender pay issues; salary increases given initial approval

In April, Forum research highlighted how lagging pay for Wisconsin’s assistant district attorneys and public defenders is a growing problem, particularly as criminal case backlogs rose during the pandemic.


Our report on this topic noted how pay for these vital roles has sharply lagged inflation during the last decade and the salaries for many other jobs for attorneys, even as turnover and workloads for these positions have increased. The report received widespread media coverage and was cited by members of the state’s criminal justice community. 

Weeks later, the Wisconsin Legislature’s budget-writing committee adopted a legislative motion that would increase base pay for assistant district attorneys and public defenders from $27.24 an hour to $36 an hour. 

This legislation still awaits passage in the full Legislature and the signature of Gov. Tony Evers. Still, its unanimous passage in the budget committee signals the breadth of support across party lines for meaningful pay increases for these public servants. And it shows how our timely report topics are carefully chosen to ensure maximum relevance and utility amid ongoing state budget debates and discussions. 

Forum research helps Wisconsin media explain complex budget issues fairly and accurately

CountyBudgetBrief.pngIn recent weeks, Wisconsin media outlets have relied more than ever on Forum research and experts to help readers, listeners, and viewers understand complex issues related to state finances — as well as the budget crises facing the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

The increasing frequency with which our research and expertise on these topics have been highlighted came as state lawmakers ratcheted up debate over the next state budget. The Forum’s work on Milwaukee city and county finances has been particularly indispensable to southeast Wisconsin media to explain the severity of reductions to parks, transit, and public safety services that could materialize in 2025 and beyond if local budget challenges are not addressed.


Our research has helped to illustrate how the city of Milwaukee stands apart from other cities nationally in the lack of diversity in its revenue mix — a critical point as state lawmakers recently voted to provide the city and county with new sales taxing authority.

Our work also has been critical in helping media explain state policymakers’ debate over shared revenue, the state’s main form of funding aid for cities, villages, towns, and counties. Now and going forward, Wisconsin media know they can count on Forum research and staff for thoughtful, nonpartisan research and insights on these issues. 

Forum events explore outdoor funding, child care economics

The second quarter brought a pair of exciting Forum events: the latest installments of our Viewpoint Luncheon and Forum Friday series.


Our latest Viewpoint Luncheon, “Paying for State and Local Conservation and Parks,” was held April 27 at Potawatomi Casino Hotel in Milwaukee. Our guest panel featured Preston Cole, director of the Milwaukee Department of Administration and former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley; Beaver Dam Mayor Rebecca Glewen; and current Wisconsin DNR Secretary Adam Payne.

On June 9, we held our latest Forum Friday, our popular virtual policy discussion series. The focus was on a topic that also was the subject of a recent Forum report: unpacking the economics of early childhood education and care in Wisconsin. Our guests were Emilie Amundson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families; Vincent Lyles, executive director of Milwaukee Succeeds; and Sachin Shivaram, the CEO of Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry. 

Forum events are a critical way in which we facilitate thoughtful, nonpartisan policy discussions featuring a range of views, and create opportunities for Forum supporters to gather, network, and learn more about these topics. Stay tuned for more information soon on future Forum events!

Farewell and best wishes to two valued Forum staffers 

Hofman.pngThe Forum staff team had some bittersweet moments last month as we said goodbye to two vital members: Fund Development and Membership Director Katie Hofman and researcher Betsy Mueller.
Hofman left the Forum in June to take a position at Lauber Community Partners, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit management consultant. She had been with the Forum since 2021 and focused on growing and stewarding our sources of support, with an emphasis on facilitating contributions from individual donors and our statewide membership. 


Mueller also left in June to join Ithaka S+R. In 2017, she joined one of the Forum’s two predecessor organizations, the former Public Policy Forum, and her research portfolio focused on education, child care, and social service issues.

Both were valued members of the Forum team and their hard work, expertise, and dedication will be greatly missed.

Meanwhile, the Forum’s Executive Committee will be considering how to replace Hofman and Mueller over the summer and new position announcements may be forthcoming.

Membership spotlight


Clark Dietz, Inc. is a multi-disciplined infrastructure engineering firm operating from offices in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Its primary areas of service include civil and water infrastructure, transportation, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering. Clark Dietz’s mission is engineering quality of life that provides a positive impact on people, the natural environment, and the economic well-being of communities. Serving as Executive Vice President and Wisconsin Regional Director, Mustafa Emir, PhD, PE brings decades of diverse experience as a civil engineer. Mustafa is highly-respected by Clark Dietz municipal clients for his innovative yet pragmatic infrastructure planning and design solutions..

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

The insight and research provided by WPF is critical in supporting most local government management functions on a daily basis. As a participant in decision making for public spending and a provider of services to the taxpayers, I derive great value from my involvement in WPF. The Forum’s work sharpens my vision and helps me identify new paradigms for questions relevant to local government.

Contact Info: Mustafa Emir, PhD, PE, Executive Vice President, Wisconsin Regional Director, Director of Business Development

Upcoming research

Teacher Turnover: With low unemployment, widespread labor challenges, and many Baby Boomers retiring, teacher turnover and retention has loomed as a major issue for Wisconsin schools even before the pandemic exacerbated these concerns. This study led by the Forum’s Norman N. Gill Fellow, Maria Hamidu, will take a statewide look at the issue, drawing on an extensive dataset to analyze teacher turnover over time and examine its implications for students, school districts, and the state.

Milwaukee County Parks Costs: After our October 2021 report reviewed the severe financial challenges facing the Milwaukee County Parks and laid out an extensive menu of possible policy options, we now have embarked on a detailed analysis of two sets of potential solutions. The project – which is supported by the county, the Milwaukee Parks Foundation, and Advocate Aurora – will examine specific options in which the county would partner with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District or individual municipalities to achieve mutual goals such as decreasing flooding, reducing capital backlogs, promoting public recreation, and identifying innovative financing options.

Housing Support: Stakeholders in the health care arena have increasingly invested in housing supports and programming, recognizing housing as one of the key social determinants of health. This study, funded by the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership (MCHP) and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, will be carried out in collaboration with IMPACT Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Inc. The project will analyze the array of health care-related housing initiatives and supports being offered to low-income individuals in Milwaukee County and will include a look at national models and potential policy changes to improve the overall system.

Early Childhood Economics: Our May report on early childhood education and care showed that, despite its importance for Wisconsin workers and employers, families struggle to afford this service. At the same time, educators typically lack adequate compensation, and providers can face challenges in making ends meet. This follow-up study will further outline the difficulties for these stakeholders by modeling the economics for centers in communities outside of Milwaukee County, home-based providers, and other sample scenarios.

Lynch.pngNew faces at the Forum

Starting in June, the Forum was excited to welcome our summer 2023 interns, Jack Lynch and Gabbi Gruver!Jack is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in economics at UW-Madison with an emphasis in math and an expected graduation date in 2024. He previously completed an internship at the Wisconsin State Treasurer’s Office.


Gabbi is pursuing a master’s degree in political science at Marquette University with an expected graduation date in 2024; she also has a master’s degree in education from Alverno College. Her previous work includes a stint as a special education teacher in Milwaukee as part of the Teach for America program. 

Among other projects, Jack and Gabbi will both assist Forum staffers in preparing updates to two of our most widely used online interactive data tools: our Municipal DataTool, which provides data on local finances, property values, and population for all 604 cities and villages in Wisconsin; and our Metro Milwaukee Innovation DataTool, which tracks the region’s performance over the last decade on 17 innovation indicators.

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 Alyssa Doman, Membership and Operations Coordinator, at or by phone at (414) 435-1105 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