“Where did all that money go?” WEDC as corporate welfare dispensary

By Kathleen Vinehout,
Former Wisconsin State Senator
August 15, 2016

Where Did All that Money Go? Business Tax Credit Costs Pile Up

by Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma)

“Where did all that money go?” Dennis asked me during a recent visit to the Jackson County Fair.

Dennis is one of many constituents who ask where the money for schools and roads is as our state recovers from the recession. Economic recovery means more money and more money should equal more resources for the public. Instead, state funds are very tight. For example, state aid to local public schools is less now than in 2006.

One reason is that the state is not collecting tax money from some large, and in several cases, very profitable companies. Recently I received a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau detailing the awards given out for one large tax credit known as the Enterprise Zone Tax Credit. This credit – originally conceived to help rural communities – has morphed into large credits for single companies.

The memo contained a list of the total awards made and the companies that received them:

 Amazon.com   $10.3 million
 Bucyrus International, Inc. $20.0 million
 Direct Supply $22.5 million
 Dollar General Corporation  $ 5.5 million
 Exact Sciences Corporation $ 9.0 million
 Fincantieri Marine Group, LLC $28.0 million
 InSinkErator$15.5 million 
 Kestrel Aircraft Company, Inc. $18.0 million
 Kohl’s Corporation$62.5 million
 Mercury Marine  $65.0 million 
 MKE Electric Tool Corporation $18.0 million 
 Northstar Med. Radioisotopes, LLC$14.0 million 
 Oshkosh Corporation$47.0 million
 Plexus Corporation$15.0 million
 Quad/Graphics, Inc.$61.7 million 
 Trane US Incorporated$ 5.5 million 
 Uline, Incorporated$18.6 million 
 W Solar Group, Incorporated $28.0 million 
 Weather Shield Mfg, Incorporated $ 8.0 million 
TOTAL (through Aug. 1, 2016) $472.1 million

All of those award amounts are refundable tax credits. This means a company can claim the credit directly against taxes owed. If the company owes little or nothing in taxes and claims the credit, they can receive a payment from the state in the form of a refund.

Owing little or nothing in state taxes is made possible, in part, by changes in tax law for corporations that date back to 2011. Majority legislators passed the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit that resulted in very low tax liability for some. A recent study released by the Wisconsin Budget Project found most of this credit goes to reducing taxes for millionaires, including “some tax filers with incomes of over $1 million receiving tax cuts of more than $100,000.”

That list of Enterprise Zone Tax Credit awards includes the total credits that can be claimed over a 16-year period (2009-2024). Different companies are on different schedules. One company’s contract began in 2009. Seven of the listed companies have contracts that go back to 2010. The remaining contracts were written since 2011. The credits are awarded for various business activities. Some credits are given for jobs created or retained, for training or buying from Wisconsin companies. In every case, the “Enterprise Zone” created is the footprint of the company itself.

Credit compliance is overseen by the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which does not have a good track record for independently verifying that jobs were created. Three separate audits by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau showed that not one single job created was independently verified.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that WEDC’s claims of jobs created were based on “faulty calculations”. They went on to report, “The agency gave out almost $90 million more in awards, but the total number of related jobs fell by nearly 6,000.”

The cost of the Enterprise Zone Tax Credit and the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit would go far in covering the cost of reforming our state’s flawed school funding formula or funding repairs for local roads.

Funding for road repair is something on the minds of many in Wisconsin. We were reminded once again that in a short time the power of Mother Nature and water can demolish our roads.  I offer my heartfelt thanks to the road crews, law enforcement, emergency management, the Red Cross and county officials all of whom worked tirelessly to keep the people safe in the aftermath of the torrential rains and flooding that hit western Wisconsin. We will not be back to normal for a while but we are all safe.

Prognosis and Conclusions: Oil from a Critical Raw Material Perspective

By Simon Michaux
(This is the Prognosis and Conclusions section, Chapter 20, pages 310-310, from the enormous report from Geological Survey of Finland, 12/22/2019, “Oil from a Critical Raw Material Perspective.” These conclusions buttress the argument made by Richard Heinberg of Post-Carbon Institute that the industrial era economy has reached the “End of Growth.”) The full PDF file, all 512 pages, is stored here on the blog and appears below this cover-page image in a BLUE LINK, so click the “Download” button if you wish to save it on your drive for later reading…

Conclusions of this report are as follows:
20.1Relevance of oil
 Oil may be the most critical of the raw material resources the current industrial ecosystem consumes. It correlates strongly with industrial output (YOY% change in Chinese Industrial output and economic activity (% change in GDP) (Figure 26).
 Charts that relate oil to steel, coal, GDP all can map the major turning points in the global industrial ecosystem (Figures 22 to 24).
 Industrial agriculture is dependent on oil to function. The World Bank Food Index and the World Bank crude oil index correlate strongly (Figure 33). The production of food is dependent on oil, and petroleum products at several places along the value chain.
 There is a correlation between the price of food, the price of oil and civil unrest. When the price of food passes 205 on the World Bank Food Index, incidence of civil unrest increases (Figure 36).
 14% of oil consumption in 2018 was used in the petrochemical industry (manufacture of plastics and fertilizers). There is no viable substitute for oil as a raw material input into the petrochemical industry.
 Oil price may be the most effective data signature to study to map the evolution of the current industrial ecosystem.
 Oil has facilitated that exponential growth of our society, industrial complexity and technological capability (Figure 17). For this reason, oil production correlates with human population.
 Oil is the most calorically dense energy resource. All other resources would have to be used in greater quantities or at much greater levels of efficiency to replace what oil contributes to our system.
 In 2018, fossil fuels accounted for 84.7% of primary energy consumption.
 Oil accounts for 33.62% of global primary energy consumption in 2018.
 Currently Europe is heavily dependent on fossil fuels (71% of energy consumed) and oil (86% of energy consumed).
 47.5% of oil and petroleum products in Europe is consumed by transport.
 70.56% of oil and petroleum products in the United States is consumed by transport  Due to the critical contribution oil makes to our industrial society, a change in supply will have measureable consequences across the whole ecosystem.

  1. Oil Reserves
     Total global proved reserves at the end of 2018 was 1729.7 thousand million barrels or 244.1 billion metric tons.
     Most oil and gas deposit discoveries happened decades ago, with most of it prior to 1970.
     In the year 2017, explorers replaced just 6% of resources consumed.
     The maximum of net addition to global oil reserve inventory was in 1981 (Figure 221).
    20.3 New oil deposit discovery rate
     Peak oil discovery was in 1962, since then rates of resource discovery has been declining persistently (Figure 219 and 221).
     New discoveries are limited: the exploration success rate in 2017 was a record low of 5%, and the average discovery size was 24 million barrels. This is also called Reserves Replacement Ratio, where less oil quantity is discovered than is consumed in a given time period (annual).
     The quantities discovered in 2017, 2018 and 2019 were the lowest on record since the initial discovery of oil. This discovery rate is about 1/10th of the discovery rate in the 1960’s.
    20.4 Oil Production Supply
     Global conventional crude oil produced in 2018 was 94.718 million barrels per day (or 4474.3 million tonnes).
     The oil market may be oversupplied with an ‘oil glut’ at the time of writing this report.  Approximately 70% of our daily oil supply comes from oil fields discovered prior to 1970.
     Most of global oil supply comes from 10 to 20 huge oil fields. In 2006, 10 oil fields accounted for 29.9% of the global proved reserves.
     Production of oil is sourced from different methods of extraction
    o Conventional on shore oil extraction 60.27%
    o Conventional offshore shallow water oil extraction 21.59%
    o Conventional offshore deep water oil extraction 8.10%
    o U.S. Tight Oil (Fracking) oil extraction 6.93%
    o Canadian Oil Sands oil extraction 3.10%
     Three nation states (United States 16.16%, Saudi Arabia 12.97% and Russian Federation 12.08%) dominate the global oil supply with 41.2% of the market between them.
     74% of the current global oil reserves is geographically concentrated in what is termed the Strategic Ellipse, which is the Middle East and Central Asia.
     The quality of oil being extracted is degrading. The sulfur content is increasing. Most oil being extracted currently is increasingly heavy and sour.
     Conventional crude oil plateaued in January 2005. In late 2013, it broke the plateau and started to increase once more.
     In January 2005, Saudi Arabia increased its number of operating rig count by 144%, to increase oil production by only 6.5%. This suggests that the market swing producer (as Saudi Arabia was seen) was not able increase production enough to meet increasing demand.
     Since then, unconventional oil sources like tight oil (fracked Tight Oil, and oil sands) have made up the demand shortfall.
     The cost of oil exploration is rising.
     The required CAPEX for oil operations is rising.
     The cost of OPEX oil production is rising.
    20.5 Oil Demand Consumption
     Global consumption for oil in 2018 was 99.843 million barrels per day.
     When the market returns to demand taking up all global supply, effective spare capacity could shrink to just 1% of global supply/demand of 99 million barrels per day, leaving the market far more susceptible to disruptions than has been the case in recent years.
     The three largest economies in the world (United States, Europe EU-28 and China), which represent 65% of global GDP and % of global oil demand are dependent on oil imports.
    o United States – 2018 deficit of 5 145 kbbls/day or 25.2% of domestic demand
    o EU-28 – 2018 deficit of 11 769 kbbls/day or 88.5% of domestic demand
    o China – 2018 deficit of 9 727 kbbls/day or 72% of domestic demand
     Oil demand is still growing by ~1mbd every year, and no central scenarios that recently was assessed predict oil demand peaking before 2040.
     Global demand for crude oil in 2040 is predicted to be approximately 120 million barrels per day (EIA International Energy Outlook 2019 with projections to 2050). In 2050, global demand is predicted to be approximately 127 million barrels per day.
     If the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was to become as developed as the German economy in context of oil consumption, the BRIC economy 2018 oil consumption would
    have to expand by 254%.
     If the whole World was to become as developed as the 2018 German economy in context of oil consumption in 2018, the global oil consumption of 99.84 mbpd would have to expand by 117% and an extra 116.68 mbpd of oil would need to be brought to market.
    20.6 US Tight Oil (Fracked Oil Shale)
     US tight oil produced in August 2019 was 7.73 million barrels per day, approximately 8.37% of global supply.
     The Oil Shale Revolution was facilitated by the application of precision horizontal drilling technology to the existing hydraulic fracking industry. This allowed a vast increase in production, very quickly.
     The U.S. tight oil sector accounted for 98% of global oil production growth in 2018.
     The U.S. tight oil sector accounted for 71.4% of new capacity of global oil between 2005 and 2019.
     The U.S. Tight Oil sector is dominated with just three of the basin plays. The Permian play, The Bakken Play (also known as Williston) and the Eagle Ford play account for 85% of the U.S. Tight Oil production. These three oil plays account for 60% of total U.S. oil production. Global demand growth is now dependent on the U.S. tight oil sector.
     Fracked well average production increased between 2010 and 2018 by 28%, but also water injection (and therefore chemical and proppant use) increased by 118%. This is an average across the whole U.S. Tight Oil Sector.
     Hydraulic fracked wells (used in Tight Oil) go through four basic stages in their life cycle. The three biggest tight oil producer basins of Permian, Eagle Ford and Bakken are all still growing but are in the mature stage of their life cycles. Mature is the third of four stages, where the fourth is decline.
     The productivity (per rig as measured by EIA) of the U.S. Tight Oil sector in 2018 is less effective than in 2016. This suggests that the U.S. Tight Oil sector is approaching its peak production reasonably soon.
     At the time of writing this report (Nov 2019), the United States had become self-sufficient in oil production. This is largely due to the production achievements in the U.S. Tight Oil sector.
     Tight Oil requires much greater meters of drilling per unit of oil produced compared to conventional oil production over their respective life cycles.
     Due to well depletion in fracking, 5 399 new wells are needed to be drilled to keep the U.S. Tight oil production consistent in 2019. Each year a similar number of new wells are required.

     The environmental impacts of fracking tight oil is being largely ignored. Most of these are related to water way pollution and destruction of forestation habitat.
     Most tight oil operations are not economically viable without government subsidy in the current market. Currently, 9 out of 10 oil producers in the tight oil U.S. fracking sector have a negative cash flow.
     The U.S. Tight oil sector is heavily dependent on continued upfront capital investment in infrastructure and to maintain well drilling rates, to keep production consistent.
     The U.S. oil production peaked in 25th of January 2019, and dropped to 19th July 2019, with a decline of 1.1 million barrels a day.
  1. 20.7 Canadian Oil Sands
     The Canadian capacity to export oil is almost entirely dependent on the oil sands (also called tar sands) production, accounting for 64% of Canadian oil production, or 2.9 million barrels a day. Most of this is heavy quality crude.
     The environmental impacts of oil sands oil/bitumen extraction is being largely ignored. Most of these are related to water way pollution and destruction of forestation habitat.
    20.8 Oil Refining
     The U.S. refined 20.45% of the global oil supply in 2018. The U.S. represents 18.75% of global refining capacity.
     China refined 15.0% of the global oil supply in 2018. China represents 15.65% of global refining capacity.
    20.9 Depletion of existing oil reserves and decline of production
     81% of existing world liquids production is already in decline (excluding future redevelopments).
     A projected range for average decline rate on post-peak production is 5-7%, equivalent to around 3-4.5mb/d of lost production every year.
     If 80% of the 2018 global supply of crude oil (94 718 thousand bbls/day – Appendix D) declined at a rate of 5% per year (Fustier et al 2016), by 2040, global crude oil supply would be 43 459 thousand barrels per day. To maintain 2018 global production rates of 94 718 kbbls/day, an extra 51 258 kbbs/day of production would have to be delivered to the market. This is 4.17 times the 2018 Saudi Arabian production rate (12 287 kbbls/day – Appendix D). Alternatively, if the Saudi Arabian elephant field Ghawar continues to produce 3.8 million barrels a day, then an extra 13.5 new oil fields the same size of Ghawar would need to be discovered, then developed to operate by 2040, just to maintain 2018 rates of global supply.
     If the projected global demand in 2040 is to be met (120 million barrels per day), an extra 25282 thousand barrels per day of consistent production capacity would have to be found in addition to the 2018 production capacity. To put this in perspective, this extra capacity would be a further 6.65 Ghawar fields.
     Small oilfields typically decline twice as fast as large fields, and the global supply mix relies increasingly on small fields: the typical new oilfield size has fallen from 500-1000mb 40 years ago to only 75mb this decade.
     A case can be made that the Saudi Arabia Ghawar field has passed its peak production. In any case, stated Ghawar production is substantially less at 3.8 mb/d, not the believed 5mb/d. (as per the Saudi Arabia Aramco IPO).
     Between January 2005 and September 2006, the Saudi Arabian oil rig count increased by 396%. Oil production in the same time period increased by 21%. The Saudi Arabian oil production productivity dropped in January 2005 and has consistently declined. This suggests that Saudi Arabia is approaching it peak production date.
     Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for oil has been declining for decades. Peak usefulness was approximately 1960.  Step-change improvements in production and drilling efficiency in response to the downturn have masked underlying decline rates at many companies, but the degree to which they can continue to do so is becoming much more limited.

20.10 Oil Investment
 The oil industry is now highly dependent on up front capital.
 70% of investment in energy supply is government driven. The rest is market driven.
 The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) changed in 2000 from 0.9% to 10.9%.
 This suggests that the oil industry has shifted from a demand constrained system to a supply constrained system.
20.11 Different eras of economic and industrial activity seen in the oil market
 The year 2005 was highly significant to the industrial ecosystem (Figure 288). The oil market became inelastic in supply in this year. Supply and demand of oil separated. The metal price of many metals blew out. The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) started a hyperinflationary bubble. The US domestic oil consumption vs vehicle miles driven chart peaked and then declined. The years
2005 to 2011 were fundamentally different to prior to 2005 (Figure 249).
 The years 2008 to 2011 were distinguished by the Global Financial Crisis, the second worst economic correction in history (as defined by the IMF).
 The years 2012 to 2014 were distinctly different again. This era was defined by the effectiveness of quantitative easing (Figure 249).
 The years 2014 to 2019 were defined by a lack of quantitative easing. QE3 finished on October 2014 (Figure 249).

MLK: We Shall Overcome House Remix

It’s the time of year again to reflect on the words and deeds of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As an old-ass white Boomer who grew up in the era of Martin Luther King speeches, for our generation, the “freedom struggle” was all about the Freedom Riders, heading South on buses to break down segregation and demand equality for black people. And many of the Freedom Riders, themselves white folks, endured the battering from the police and angry white mobs in the Deep South of that era. “Free At Last!” was the aspiration cry of those times.

This mix was downloaded in a 3-hour show from Milwaukee School of Engineering radio, around the turn of the century. In those times, there was no Soundcloud; no Spotify, no twitch-TV streaming services, so you downloaded long-ass tracks and ripped them and saved the parts you wanted. This aired on one of Bob Martinez’s morning shows, and the house mix itself was done by Haz DJs…

Ballot Initiative and Referendum in Wisconsin-By Legislative Reference Bureau of Wisconsin

here is the PDF file which will be stored on this blog site until the Referendum on Business Highway 51 in Stevens Point is put to rest…

Ballot Initiative and Referendum in Wisconsin 1
Other than candidates for office, anything that appears on a ballot is known as a ballot
measure.1 There are two types of ballot measures—initiatives and referendums. Togeth-
er, ballot initiative and referendum generally refers to the procedure that allows citizens
to circumvent the state legislature through a petition in order to place a proposed state
law or constitutional amendment directly on the ballot for citizens to adopt or reject at a
referendum election. While there is no national initiative and referendum process in the
United States, 24 states have a statewide ballot initiative and referendum process.2
Wisconsin voters cannot introduce initiatives or referendums on a statewide basis,
but voters do have the opportunity to participate in the law-making process in cities and
villages. A statewide initiative and referendum process made it to the ballot for ratification
of the state constitution only once in Wisconsin’s history—over a century ago, in Novem –
ber 1914. Voters rejected this constitutional amendment, with 64 percent voting against
it. At the same general election, Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly rejected another con –
stitutional amendment that required the legislature, upon petition by citizens, to submit
constitutional amendments to the people for ratification, with 69 percent voting against it.
This publication provides an overview of ballot measures in Wisconsin. The first sec-
tion describes basic terminology. The second section discusses statewide referendums
and how the Wisconsin Legislature submits them to the Wisconsin electorate. The third
section looks at local ballot initiative and referendum processes available to Wisconsin
citizens. Finally, the fourth section concludes with recent examples of Wisconsin refer –
endums. While there are numerous situations where local voters may vote on actions
in referendum elections, these recent referendums exemplify what a Wisconsin voter is
likely to encounter on a ballot.3
Ballot initiatives—direct and indirect
A ballot initiative is the process by which a specified number of voters may circulate a
petition to invoke a popular vote in a referendum election on proposed laws or constitu –
tional amendments, bypassing the legislative body. Where they are allowed at the state or
local level, ballot initiatives can create, change, or repeal state and local laws; amend state
constitutions; or amend local charters.

2 Wisconsin Elections Project, vol. 1, no. 1
Ballot initiatives may be direct or indirect. Adirect initiative places a proposed mea-
sure directly on the ballot for popular vote in a future election if a sufficient number of
signatures are gathered by petition. In an indirect initiative, after gathering a sufficient
number of signatures, petitioners refer a proposed law or ordinance to a legislative body
that has the power to decide to act on the proposal or not. If the body refuses to enact the
measure within a prescribed time period, the proposed measure typically must qualify
once more by gaining enough signatures to appear on a ballot for voters to decide the
issue in a referendum election.
Referendums—advisory, binding, and petition
The term referendum typically refers to any election in which the people vote to ap-
prove or reject a specific proposal.4 There are three main types of referendums—advisory,
binding, and petition. In an advisory referendum, a legislative body places a proposed
measure on the ballot to gauge the opinion of the electorate. The results of an advisory
referendum are not binding, and governing bodies are not required to act in accordance
with the majority opinion. By contrast, in a binding referendum,5 constitutional or stat-
utory provisions mandate that certain proposed measures be submitted to the electorate
for ratification in order to take effect. The term petition referendum6 has two possible
meanings: it can refer to the referendum election that completes the ballot initiative pro-
cess, or it can refer alternatively to the process by which citizens can force a referendum
election on whether or not a law already passed by a legislative body will remain in effect.
In Wisconsin, a referendum can be placed on the ballot through a number of means.
Most commonly, a referendum election is triggered by the direct or indirect actions of
a governing body or through circulation of a petition by a voter (direct legislation) in a
city or village.
Statewide referendums in Wisconsin
While Wisconsin does not have a state-level initiative process, state law does require a
statewide referendum in three specific instances: constitutional amendments; 7 any au-
thorization of statewide debt in excess of constitutional limits; 8 and the extension of the
right to vote to additional classes of people.9
Constitutional amendments
A proposal to amend the Wisconsin Constitution must be passed by a majority of mem –
bers in both houses as a joint resolution, known as “first consideration,” and then in iden-
tical form by the next session of the legislature, known as “second consideration.” After
this, the legislature submits the proposed constitutional amendment for ratification by a
majority of the electorate in a statewide referendum election.
Since the adoption of the Wisconsin Constitution in 1848, the electorate has voted
145 times, out of 197 opportunities, to amend the constitution.

Other statewide referendums
Besides constitutional amendments, there are three other instances in which the Wiscon-
sin Legislature may submit questions for the people to approve or reject in a statewide
referendum election: ratifying a law extending the right of suffrage; ratifying an enact –
ed law contingent on voter approval in order for it to go into effect; and gauging voter
preferences on specific issues or general policy through an advisory referendum.11 Since
1848, the Wisconsin Legislature has submitted 54 statewide referendum questions to the
electorate, 37 of which have been approved.
The last time the legislature submitted a proposal that extended the right of suffrage
and was contingent on voter approval occurred in November 2000, when 1999 Wisconsin Act 182 proposed to extend suffrage in federal elections to adult children of U.S. citizens living abroad. The following ballot question was submitted: “Shall sections 68 and 70 of [1999 Wisconsin Act 182], which extend the right to vote in federal elections in this state to the adult children of U.S. citizens who resided in this state prior to establishing residency abroad, become effective on January 1, 2001?”

Local ballot measures in Wisconsin

County boards are permitted to hold a countywide referendum for advisory purposes. 12
There have been dozens of countywide advisory referendums on a wide variety of topics, including marijuana legalization,13 the dark store loophole,14 corporate personhood,15
and nonpartisan redistricting reform.


For example, eight counties and one town in Wisconsin held and passed advisory
referendums that gauged the level of county-
wide support for nonpartisan redistricting
procedures. The question that appeared on
the ballots in these counties asked, “Should
the Wisconsin Legislature create a nonpar –
tisan procedure for the preparation of leg –
islative and congressional district plans and
In addition, county-level binding refer –
endums may be held in order to approve a
county board’s enactment of an ordinance or
adoption of a resolution that is contingent
upon approval in a referendum election. 17
For either binding or advisory referendums,
the county board must adopt a resolution or
seek to enact an ordinance that contains the

question that will appear on the ballot. Then the county board must either call for a
special referendum18 or specify that the referendum will be held at the next succeeding
election (spring primary or election, or partisan primary or election). The board must
then file the ballot measure with the proper official in charge of preparing the ballots for
that election no later than 70 days prior to the election at which the measure appears on
the ballot.19 This “70 days prior to election” requirement applies to all ballot measures
that are to be submitted to a vote of the people.20
There is no statutory authorization for county electors to use a direct legislation process.
However, there are a number of statutory authorizations for Wisconsin county residents
to use the referendum process in specific circumstances. Examples include the following:

• Relocating a county seat.21
• Consolidating counties.22
• Approving salary increases for county board supervisors in counties with a population
of less than 750,000.23
• Changing the number of supervisors.24
• Creating or abolishing the office of county executive in counties with a population of
less than 750,000.25
• Creating the office of county administrator.26
• Approving board action related to conducting a county fair.27
• Approving board action to exceed the levy limits.28
Note that the referendum procedure for counties is exactly the same as the one out –
lined for cities and villages below, except that instead of filing documents with the mu –
nicipal clerk, the county clerk would receive and review the paperwork.

Cities and villages

Both the Wisconsin Constitution and state statutes grant cities and villages home rule
power,29 which allows the governing bodies of cities and villages to conduct advisory and
binding referendums for the same purposes as the county board. In addition, state law
provides that local ordinances can be established or amended by direct initiative. 30 This
section discusses the local ballot initiative process in cities and villages and the ballot
initiative procedure.
Wisconsin’s “Direct Legislation” statute, Wis. Stat. § 9.20, provides the procedure for
residents of Wisconsin cities and villages to submit petitions proposing legislation.31 For
the legislation to become effective, it must either be passed verbatim by the municipality’s
governing body or submitted to a referendum and approved by the majority of voters.
City or village legislation adopted via initiative cannot be vetoed by the mayor or village
president. However, laws adopted by initiative may be repealed or amended by another
initiative action.32
A series of decisions by the Wisconsin Supreme Court have dealt with Wis. Stat. § 9.20
and set limits on its use. The court has ruled that direct legislation must relate to new legis-
lation and cannot be designed to amend or repeal existing legislation that has been properly
enacted; in addition, direct legislation is restricted to legislative-type actions—ordinances
and resolutions—and is not applicable to executive, administrative, or judicial activities.33
The ballot initiative process begins with the circulation of a petition. Once propo –
nents of a legislative proposal begin the petition process, they have 60 days to gather a
number of valid signatures of qualified city or village electors34 equal to at least 15 percent
of the votes cast in the city or village for governor in the last election. The petition’s form
and preparation is governed by Wis. Stat. § 8.40. If enough signatures are gathered in the
60-day period, the petitions are filed with the municipal clerk. The time frame for the
clerk to review the petition and rule on its validity, including verifying that the correct
number of signatures has been obtained and determining whether the proposal is prop
erly worded is provided by Wis. Stat. § 9.20 (3). The role of the common council or village
board in dealing with a clerk-certified petition and the time frames that trigger certain
events are outlined under Wis. Stat. § 9.20 (4).
The city council or village board has 30 days from the receipt of the petition to either
pass the proposal in unaltered form or put it to a referendum vote at the next spring or
general election, if the election is scheduled more than 70 days after the expiration of the
30-day period. If the next election is within 70 days, the referendum must be delayed un-
til the following spring or general election, unless the council or board agrees by a three-
fourths vote of the entire elected membership of the body to order a special election for
the purpose of voting on the proposal.35
It is not necessary that the full wording of the proposed ordinance be printed on the
ballot, but if it is not, the ballot must include a concise printed statement of the nature
of the proposal. 36 The wording of the ballot question must permit the voter to clearly
indicate approval or rejection by a straightforward “yes” or “no” vote. 37 If the majority
of those voting in the referendum favor the ordinance, it takes effect on the date of its
publication, which must occur within 10 days after the election.38
City councils or village boards in Wisconsin may enact, amend, or repeal by ordi –
nance the city or village charter. If the local governing body adopts a charter ordinance,
the proposed charter ordinance is subject to the 60-day waiting period required by Wis.
Stat. § 66.0101 (5). During that period, if electors are opposed to the measure, they can
seek to prevent the proposed charter ordinance from taking effect by filing a petition
requiring the charter ordinance to be submitted to the electors for a vote. The petition
must be signed by a number of voters equal to not less than 7 percent of the votes cast in
the city or village for governor in the last election. The referendum is held at the spring
election or at a different time permitted underWis. Stat. § 9.20 (4).39 If a majority of those
voting in a referendum reject it, the ordinance is nullified.


Towns are not authorized to act under Wis. Stat. § 9.20, and there is no generalized stat –
utory authority relating to town referendums. 40 In addition, there are few statutory ref –
erences that specifically authorize residents of towns to use the initiative procedure for
specific circumstances.

Any qualified town elector, however, may vote at an annual or special town meeting.
These include
• Division and dissolution of towns generally.41
• Town withdrawal from county zoning.42
• Appointment of a person to fill a town office position.43
• Zoning authority if exercising village powers.44
• Method of selection of town sanitary district commissioners.45
• Consolidation of town sanitary district boundaries.46

School district referendums

School districts may initiate two types of referendums to increase funding. First, a district
may need to hold a referendum to issue debt for a specified purpose. 47 These are often
referred to as “capital referenda,” because the funds are typically (but not always) for con-
struction and other large capital projects. That process begins when a school board or the
electors at a regularly called school district meeting adopt a resolution to raise money by
issuing bonds.48 If the board did not call for a referendum along with the resolution to
issue bonds, the school board must then hold a public hearing at least 10 days after the
initial resolution is adopted. The board must choose whether that hearing will be purely
informational or whether the attendees will be allowed to vote on whether to hold a ref –
erendum at the meeting. If an informational hearing is held, then a petition signed by the
lesser of 7,500 electors or 20 percent of all electors in the district can initiate a referendum
on the initial resolution. The school district clerk must then submit the referendum to
voters at the next primary or general election, as long as at least 70 days pass between the
resolution’s adoption and the election.49
These debt referendums must follow the general procedure for municipal bond referendums outlined in Wis. Stat. § 67.05 (1), (3), and (7) to (15). As with referendums on
municipal legislation, the text of the actual referendum question is a “concise statement”
of the question.50
Second, a district may initiate a referendum to exceed its revenue limit without is –
suing new debt.51 This process starts when a school board adopts a resolution to exceed
the limit. The permission to exceed the revenue limit can be for either recurring or
nonrecurring purposes, i.e., can continue indefinitely or be only for a set period. The
school district clerk must then submit the referendum to voters at the next primary or
Districts may not conduct referendums to exceed the revenue limit or issue debt
more than twice per year.52
Tangentially related to raising funding, school boards may also use referendums to
give teachers raises. A school board that wishes to raise the base wages of teachers in
the district is limited to an increase equal to an increase in the Consumer Price Index, a
measure of inflation.53 However, it can exceed that limit by conducting a referendum in
its district.54 No additional revenue or debt is raised by this type of referendum.

Not all school district referendums relate directly to money. Chapter 117 of the Wiscon –
sin Statutes sets out the processes for the reorganization of school districts, and many of
these processes require referendums. A referendum may be required or requested when
a school district is created, is dissolved, or attaches or detaches large amounts of territory,
or when two or more districts are consolidated.
Consolidation. A binding referendum may be held when two or more school dis –
tricts initiate the process to consolidate. A referendum on consolidation occurs if any
of the school boards involved order the holding of a referendum or if 10 percent of the
electors in any affected district sign a petition asking for a referendum; the petition is
filed in the district with the greatest land value. 55 If a referendum is called, it takes place
in each school district that would be affected by the consolidation. The referendum must
obtain a majority in each of the affected school districts. If the referendum fails in any of
the affected districts, the consolidation does not occur.56
Dissolution. An advisory referendum may be held when a school district initiates
the process to dissolve itself. Following the adoption of an order to dissolve, an advisory
referendum must be held if either the school board orders an advisory referendum at the
time of adopting the resolution or 10 percent of the electors in the dissolving district sign
a petition to hold a referendum.57 In any referendum, the electors are the residents of the
school district where the dissolution is proposed. The referendum is purely advisory; the
final decision to dissolve is made by the School District Boundary Appeal Board (SDBAB),
but the outcome of the referendum must be considered when that decision is made.58
Change in territory. The attempted transfer of a large territory 59 from one school
district to another may result in a binding referendum. The detachment/attachment pro-
cess is initiated when either a majority of the electors in that territory or the owners of a
majority of the territory’s value file a petition for a detachment with the school district
where the territory is located. 60 A referendum on the transfer is held only if either of
the school boards of the affected districts orders one or if 10 percent of the electors in
either affected district sign a petition asking for a referendum. 61 If held, a detachment
referendum occurs during the fall general election and must obtain a majority in each
of the affected school districts. If the referendum fails in any of the affected districts, the
transfer does not occur.62
Creation. The creation of a school district from the territory of an existing district
must be ratified by voters. There are two types of district creation referendums. The first
is initiated if
• The school boards of all the affected districts approve the reorganization and there is no
review by the SDBAB;63
• The school boards of all the affected districts approve the reorganization, there is a re –
view by the SDBAB, and SDBAB grants the reorganization;64 or
• The school boards of one or more of the affected districts deny the reorganization, there
is a review by the SDBAB, and SDBAB grants the reorganization.65
In this type of referendum, the electors are the residents of the proposed new dis –
The second type of referendum usually occurs after the first, but only when
• The school boards of one or more of the affected districts deny the reorganization, there
is a review by the SDBAB, and SDBAB grants the reorganization; and67
• A petition requesting a referendum, signed by 20 percent of the electors in the affected
school districts, is filed in the affected school district with the greatest land value.68
In the second referendum, the electors are the residents of all affected districts, regardless of whether they reside in the proposed new district.69
If any of the referendums in the creation process fail, the proposed district is not

Recent referendums

Statewide referendums

In the past decade, three constitutional amendments have been placed on ballots for consideration by the Wisconsin electorate. The first, which required revenues generated from
the use of the state’s transportation system to be placed in the state transportation fund,
passed in November 2014 with 80 percent of the votes.70 The second, which allowed the
chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to be elected by the justices rather than determined by seniority, passed in April 2015 with 53 percent in favor of it.71 The third,
which eliminated the office of state treasurer, failed in November 2018 with only 38 percent of the votes.72
Following the passage of 2017 Senate Joint Resolution 53and 2019
Senate Joint Resolution 2, a vote on a new constitutional amendment will take place on April 7, 2020. That amendment, popularly known as “Marsy’s Law,” would define “victims” of crimes and codify several rights for victims.
The last statewide advisory referendum election occurred in 2006 and asked Wisconsinites about the death penalty, which has been prohibited in Wisconsin since 1853.73 The following ballot question was submitted: “Should the death penalty be enacted in the state of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence?” The outcome of the referendum was 55 percent in favor and 45 percent against it.

School finance referendums

The number of financing referendums increased throughout the 2010s, and the amount of
money those referendums intended to raise reached new all-ime highs even when adjusting for inflation.74 In 2018 and 2019, districts proposed raising, respectively, $2.18 billion and
$1.21 billion via referendum. Since the imposition of school district revenue limits by 1993
Wisconsin Act 16, 40 percent of school referendums were dedicated to exceeding that limit.
The proportion of successful referendums has also increased recently. The success
rate for referendums was 76 percent from 2015 to 2019, compared to 62 percent for all
referendums since 1991.
As seen in figure 8, funding referendums are used by all types of school districts.


School districts use this funding for a variety of reasons, from rural districts seeking to
maintain funding as the proportion of children in their area shrinks, to urban districts
building schools in order to manage growth.75
Since 2010, there have been only two major district reorganization referendums. The
school districts of Chetek and Weyerhaeuser consolidated on July 1, 2010, following a suc-
cessful referendum.76 The school district of Palmyra-Eagle held an advisory referendum to dissolve the district in November 2019. The referendum was successful; 77 however, the disillusion was rejected by the SDBAB in January 2020.78


Unlike a number of other states, Wisconsin does not have any statewide initiative process that would allow electors to propose new state laws or constitutional amendments through a petition and to compel a referendum vote. However, residents of Wisconsin do have the ballot initiative process at their disposal at the local level to compel a referendum vote via a petition.


  1. Ballot measures are also known as “ballot propositions” or “ballot questions.”
  2. Of these 24 states, some allow citizens to propose statutes, some allow citizens to propose constitutional amendments,
    and some allow both. Additionally, some states give the people the right to approve or reject an act of the legislature at a referendum election, which is sometimes referred to as the “citizen’s veto.”
  3. Statutory references in Wisconsin law to particular referendums are numerous and situationally specific; therefore, this publication will not cover every single instance.
    . Wis. Stat. § 5.02 (16s) defines referendum as “an election at which an advisory, validating, or ratifying question is submitted to the electorate.”
  4. A “binding referendum” is also referred to as a “contingent referendum.”
  5. A “petition referendum” is also referred to as a “citizen’s referendum” or “protest referendum.”
  6. Wis. Const. art. XII, § 1.
  7. Wis. Const. art. VIII, §§ 6 and 7 (2) (g).
  8. Wis. Const. art. III, § 2 (5). The Wisconsin Constitution did include an additional statewide referendum requiring final
  9. approval by the electorate for all laws that affected banking under art. XI, § 5; however, this section was repealed in 1902.
  10. Todd Milewski, “Wisconsin Sees Sharp Decline in Number of Constitutional Amendment Questions on the Ballot,” The
  11. Capital Times, Oct 31, 2014, https://madison.com/.
  12. For statewide advisory referendums on specific questions, the legislature follows the procedure set out under Wis. Stat. §§ 8.37 and 13.175

12. Wis. Stat. § 59.52 (25).
13. Don Behm, “ Pro Pot: Voters Support All Marijuana Advisory Referendums on Tuesday’s Ballots ,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 7, 2018, https://www.jsonline.com.
14. Alison Dirr, “Wisconsin Election: Voters Favor Closing ‘Dark Stores’ Property Tax Loophole ,” Appleton Post-Crescent,
November 7, 2018, https://www.postcrescent.com.
15. Laurel White, “ 11 Wisconsin Communities Pass Anti-Citizens United Referendums ,” Wisconsin Public Radio, April 8, 2016, https://www.wpr.org.
16. Hope Kirwan, “ Voters in La Crosse, Vernon Counties Support Nonpartisan Redistricting Referendums ,” Wisconsin Public Radio, April 4, 2019, https://www.wpr.org. Kirwan also mentions that the town of Newbold, WI, in Oneida County has held an advisory referendum to seek voter preferences on the topic of nonpartisan redistricting reform. Sixty-nine percent
voted in favor of the reform.
17. Wis. Stat. § 59.52 (25)
18. Wis. Stat. § 8.55.
19. Wis. Stat. § 8.37.
20. Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 8.37, the requirement applies to the official filing of referendum petitions or questions unless
otherwise required by law.
21. Wis. Stat. § 59.05 relates to the relocation. Wis. Const. art. XIII, § 8 states that no county seat may be moved unless a
majority of those voting in a countywide referendum favor its removal to a specified point.
22. Wis. Stat. § 59.08; Wis. Stat. § 59.08 (5).
23. Wis. Stat. § 59.10 (2) (c) 3.
24. Wis. Stat. § 59.10 (3) (cm).
25. Wis. Stat. § 59.17 (1) (b).
26. Wis. Stat. § 59.18 (1).
27. Wis. Stat. § 59.56 (14) (e).
28. Wis. Stat. § 59.605 (3).
29. Wis. Const. art. XI § 3; Wis. Stat. § 61.34 (1) for villages and § 62.11 (5) for cities.6 Wisconsin Elections Project, vol. 1, no. 1
30. The most familiar examples are two related to school district finances: Wis. Stat. § 67.05 (6a) , which relates to school
district bonds, and Wis. Stat. § 121.91 (3), which relates to school district revenue limits.
31. Although Wis. Stat. § 9.20 is titled “Direct Legislation,” the fact that the proposal must first receive municipal legislative
consideration places this mechanism in the “indirect initiative” category, because supporters of a proposal cannot move the
measure directly from the petition phase to placement on the ballot.
32. Wis. Stat. § 9.20 (8).
33. In particular, Landt v. Wisconsin Dells, 30 Wis. 2d 470 (1966); Heider v. Wauwatosa, 37 Wis. 2d 466 (1967); and State ex rel. Althouse v. Madison, 79 Wis. 2d 97 (1977) have set limits on the use of this procedure.
34. Legal residents of voting age who are U.S. citizens.

35. No more than one such special election may be held in any six-month period.

36. Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Inc. v. City of Milwaukee, 2011 WI App 45, 332 Wis. 2d 459, 798
N.W.2d 287, 09-1874.

37. These rules also apply to statewide and countywide referendums.

38. Wis. Stat. § 9.20 (7) . Prior to every referendum, Wis. Stat. § 10.01 (2) (c) requires that the county or municipal clerk publish at least one notice about the election in the appropriate newspapers. The notice must include the following: the date of the referendum, the entire text of the question and the proposed enactment, if any, and an explanatory statement that describes, in plain language, the effect of the proposed law if enacted. The explanatory statement is prepared by the chief legal officer of the jurisdiction.

39. Wis. Stat. § 66.0101 (7) and (8).

40. Wis. Stat. § 60.10 (1) provides a list for the powers of a town meeting.

41. Wis. Stat. § 60.03.

42. Wis. Stat. § 60.23 (34) (b) 3.8 Wisconsin Elections Project, vol. 1, no. 1
43. Wis. Stat. § 60.30 (1e).
44. Wis. Stat. § 60.62 (2).
45. Wis. Stat. § 60.74 (5) (b) and (5m) (b).
46. Wis. Stat. § 60.785 (2).
47. Wis. Stat. § 67.05 (6a).
48. A bond is a certificate, provided to an individual or entity that lends money to a government or business for a set period,
with the promise that the government or business will repay that money plus interest.
49. A referendum can be held outside the normal election schedule if it is in the six-month period after a natural disaster.
50. Wis. Stat. § 5.64 (2).
51. Wis. Stat. § 121.91 (3).Ballot Initiative and Referendum in Wisconsin 9
general election, as long as at least 70 days pass between the resolution’s adoption and
the election.
52. Wis. Stat. § 67.05 (6a) (a) 2. a.
53. Wis. Stat. § 111.70 (4) (mb) 2. a.
54. Wis. Stat. § 118.245.
55. Wis. Stat. §§ 117.08 (3) (a) 1. and 2 . and 117.09 (3) (a) 1. and 2 . In the case of a consolidation of high school and ele –
mentary districts, filing and the referendum itself are held in the high school district.
56. Wis. Stat §§ 117.08 (4) and 117.09 (4).
57. Wis. Stat. § 117.10 (3) (a) 1. and 2.
58. Wis. Stat. §§ 117.10 (4) and 117.15 (7).10 Wisconsin Elections Project, vol. 1, no. 1
59. Seven percent of the enrollment or the equalized valuation of the district for the land requesting detachment.
60. Wis. Stat. § 117.11 (2).
61. Wis. Stat. § 117.11 (4) (a) 1. and 2.
62. Wis. Stat. §§ 117.11 (4) (b) and 117.20 (1) (a).
63. Wis. Stat. § 117.105 (3) (a) 1.
64. Wis. Stat. § 117.105 (3) (a) 2.
65. Wis. Stat. § 117.105 (3) (c).
66. Wis. Stat. § 117.105 (3) (b).
67. Wis. Stat. § 117.105 (3) (c).
68. Wis. Stat. § 117.105 (3) (c).
69. Wis. Stat. § 117.105 (3)

  1. 2013 Wis. AJR 2.
  2. 2015 Wis. SJR 2.
  3. 2017 Wis. SJR 3.
  4. Chapter 103, Laws of 1853.
  5. Adjusted using data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers,” https://data.bls.gov.
  6. State aid and school revenue limits are tied to the number of students in a district, so the declining enrollment in many rural areas is creating pressures on schools. Sarah Kemp, “Shifts in Student Numbers Help Drive School Referendums Across Wisconsin,” Wiscontext, Oct. 25, 2018, https://www.wiscontext.org.
  7. Christa Pugh, “School District Reorganization,” Informational Paper 30 (Madison, WI: Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 2019),77. Bob Dohr, “Residents Vote in Favor of Dissolving the Palmyra-Eagle School District in an Advisory Referendum,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Nov. 5, 2019), https://www.jsonline.com.
  8. Bob Dohr, “ The Cash-Strapped Palmyra-Eagle Area School District Will Not Dissolve, State Panel Rules ,” Milwaukee
  9. Journal Sentinel, (Jan. 9, 2020), https://www.jsonline.com