Concerns about health care — including declining mental health, access to care and addiction issues — are top of mind for Wisconsinites in a variety of demographics according to a wide-ranging, year-long study conducted by the conservative Institute for Reforming Government.
The organization held 42 listening sessions in 25 communities throughout the state, including Arcadia, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Hayward, Janesville, Madison, Milwaukee, Oconomowoc, Spring Green, Waukesha and Wausau. The result is a report called “What Wisconsin Wants,” broken into sections including farmers, manufacturers, public and charter school teachers, veterans, college students, retailers, realtors and entrepreneurs.
“(The organization knows) some of the best ideas can come from the people and communities all across the state. That’s why a deeper understanding of the social fabric that supports strong families, schools and communities is the precursor to ensuring Wisconsin remains the heart of the American Dream for generations to come,” wrote CEO CJ Szafir in an introduction to the report.
The report includes lists of concerns from each group, along with proposed policy solutions. It’s accompanied by a poll conducted last month by Morning Consult, a firm with a B- minus rating from FiveThirtyEight (ratings are based on accuracy and methodology; Morning Consult was found to have called 73% of races it polled on correctly).
The poll found that 89% of Wisconsin voters see drugs and addiction as a significant or somewhat significant problem, and 85% said that about the cost of health care. Those issues were followed by mental health at 83%, the cost of child care at 80% and the middle-class tax rate at 76%.
Wisconsin voters have lower trust in government than voters do nationally. Just 11% of Wisconsin voters polled trust the federal government, compared to 22% nationally. And only 18% of Wisconsin voters trust the state government, compared to 29% of voters across the country.
Top issues discussed by farmers included access to medications for animals, regulations and the loss of the University of Wisconsin Extension programming in some rural areas (a result of restructuring implemented in 2018).
For manufacturers, top concerns included bureaucratic wait times, trade policy, tax policy and attracting qualified workers.
Worsening mental health among students was the number one issue brought up by public school teachers. Public school teachers also had concerns about learning loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, access to broadband internet, inadequate state funding and a teacher shortage that overburdens those remaining in the profession.
Charter school teachers also referenced the teacher shortage, along with hiring standards that give preference to teachers with advanced degrees. They expressed frustration with the operations of Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESAs), which serve as a connection between schools and the state, and said they still struggle with a stigma associated with charter schools.
Issues discussed by veterans included difficulties with starting the benefits process, frustrations with the systems that provide services, lack of broadband (which would increase access to telehealth) and outdated facilities.
Mental health concerns topped the list among college students. Students also noted the cost of college can be prohibitive, and administrative processes can be hard to navigate. Conservative students said they feel isolated and deterred from sharing their beliefs.
Retailers shared frustrations related to credit card companies: swipe fees and cybersecurity. They also named local crime and public safety as an issue.
Commercial realtors were unhappy with the state’s regulatory environment and tax structure, a lack of affordable housing options and the absence of a universal school choice program.
Entrepreneurs said it’s difficult to attract tech startups outside of Madison. They also shared difficulties navigating regulations and frustrations working with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, as well as the “brain drain” of college graduates leaving for other states.