News & Updates | 4th Quarter 2023

By Jeffrey Schmidt

President’s Message


It’s not often that the Forum issues an urgent call for action as a result of our research, but we came close to doing so in Under Pressure, our August 2023 examination of the Milwaukee County justice system’s recovery from COVID-19.

We warned in that report that several key pillars of the system “are not functioning in the same way or at the same level as they were prior to the pandemic.” Our conclusion then urged justice system leaders and policymakers “to aggressively explore why that is, to what degree it may have impacted public safety, what progress is being made in remedying the identified challenges, and whether additional resources or other solutions are required to get the system back on track.”
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Forum Gears Up for Next Phase of Milwaukee City-County Service Sharing Work


Partnering Up, our November report on back office service sharing possibilities for the city and county of Milwaukee, was the culmination of nearly seven months of research, analysis, and interviews with city and county officials.

The report considers the administrative services conducted by both governments and whether each service area meets the criteria we typically use to assess the promise of service sharing or consolidation. Those include whether the service is one that is performed similarly by both governments and whether both face similar programmatic challenges, such as the need to invest in new technology or difficulties with employee recruitment and retention.

The report concludes that six administrative service areas hold considerable promise for sharing or consolidation, while an additional handful show at least some promise. The next step is for city and county leaders to digest our findings and agree on two to four service areas that would move into a much more detailed phase of analysis in 2024.

We are pleased to report that Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and County Executive David Crowley – as well as key members of their staffs – met with us in early December to review the report and initiate the process of culling the list. We hope to reach some decisions in early January and begin the next phase of research shortly thereafter.

Also, as recently reported by Urban Milwaukee, a different study commissioned by the city to examine its contracting practices already has established synergy with one of our findings. The study suggests, as we did, that the city combine its certification and capacity-building efforts for minority- and women-owned firms seeking to bid on government contracts with the county and other local governments. We look forward to reporting next year on whether that suggestion – and which others from our November report – make it into the next phase of research.

Big Attendance, Exceptional Award Winners Mark 31st Annual Salute to Local Government


We are grateful to the roughly 420 guests who joined us for our 31st annual Salute to Local Government awards on November 15 in Milwaukee!

The Salute is Wisconsin’s premier annual celebration of how public sector excellence improves communities throughout our state. Salute awards recognize local governments and school districts for innovative problem-solving, efforts to advance racial equity, intergovernmental cooperation, and public-private cooperation. We also honored individuals in the public sector for excellence and lifetime achievement. 

This year the Salute featured a new award category, in partnership with UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs, to recognize innovative performance in state government.

Our featured speaker was Bob Lang, the longtime director of Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Lang explained how the bureau has upheld its nonpartisan mission during his 46-year tenure – and how his passion for public service has compelled him to stick with the demanding job for so many years. 

Congrats to all of this year’s winners – click here for a complete list, and to watch video vignettes recognizing each of them!

Forum Friday highlights stakes in Universities of Wisconsin funding debate


In one of our most timely events in recent memory, the Dec. 8 installment of our popular virtual event series, Forum Friday, focused on the challenges facing the Universities of Wisconsin, and how they affect the state’s workforce needs.

Our guests were Universities of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman, BioForward Wisconsin CEO Lisa Johnson, and Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. CEO Tricia Rathermel.

The event came just hours after Rothman announced he had brokered a deal with Republican state legislative leaders to provide about $800 million in new funding for the universities and pay raises for UW employees — in exchange for changes including the reclassification of 43 positions in the universities currently devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Our program began with an overview of our research on Wisconsin’s public university system, which is grappling with declining enrollment, stagnant state funding, and clashes with lawmakers.

Thanks to all who tuned in and for those who missed it, a recording can be found here. Watch for an upcoming announcement of our next Forum Friday, sometime in early 2024!

A Peek at the Forum’s 2024 Agenda


The new year has just been ushered in, but the Forum has already launched a number of major research projects for 2024 and we have several studies nearing publication in the first few months of the new year. Our still-evolving list of 2024 research projects and publications includes the city of Milwaukee public safety analysis cited earlier in this newsletter as well as the following:

  • A review of the fiscal challenges facing the Milwaukee County Parks and options for addressing those needs through enhanced partnerships with municipalities and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. This research builds on “Sinking Treasure,” our 2021 report on the county parks, and received support from the county parks department, Milwaukee Parks Foundation, and Advocate Aurora Health.
  • A look at the increasingly complex K-12 landscape in our state’s largest city, from the Milwaukee Public Schools to state-funded private voucher schools and independent charters. This study will shed light on how the overall ecosystem of schools has changed over time in areas such as student enrollment and demographics, financing, and student outcomes, and the policy implications of those changes. The initial report in this project will update our 2014 study on the subject and is being supported, in part, by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation.
  • An exploration of how Milwaukee’s performing arts sector is recovering from the pandemic and might respond to its current challenges. The study is supported by three local foundations (Northwestern Mutual, Herzfeld, and Bader Philanthropies) and will include comparisons of Milwaukee’s sector with peer cities and consideration of potential opportunities for sharing or consolidation of certain support functions among local performing arts groups.
  • Several local government efficiency and service sharing analyses, including a look at solid waste collection in the city of Eau Claire and emergency medical services in Milwaukee County and Lafayette County. We will also move into a second phase of work on our analysis of “back office” service sharing between the city and county of Milwaukee.

Of course, our 2024 output will also include many of our familiar publications such as our annual local government budget briefs and interactive data tools as well as policy briefs and in-depth reports. We look forward to hearing from you about all of them! 

Membership Spotlight: SC Johnson


Our Member Spotlight shines in this edition on SC Johnson, a premier global manufacturer of household products with brands including Windex, OFF!, Method, Glade, Pledge, Ziploc and many others. SC Johnson is a fifth-generation family-owned company headquartered in Racine that prioritizes sustainability in its products and manufacturing processes and seeks to make the world a better place for generations to come. The company was a long-time, generous contributor to one of the Forum’s two predecessor organizations, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, and they have continued their generosity since the merger with the former Public Policy Forum (PPF) in 2018. SC Johnson also was quite familiar with PPF given that organization’s many years of work making a positive impact in local communities, including the Greater Racine area. Thank you to SC Johnson for generously supporting our work!

Stay Tuned for a Survey on Our 2023 Research 

Every year, we ask our members to give us their feedback on our research and communications. Your input helps us understand what we’re doing well and where we can make improvements. This year’s survey will be hitting your inbox in the near future!

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, our 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