State Policy Network
Case Study: Badger Institute’s Research Leads to Positive Policy Change in Wisconsin

How do you reform a state?

Even though there are many answers to that question, few would likely say, “a 300-page policy book.”

However, the Badger Institute is leading the charge in Wisconsin on meaningful and far-reaching reforms in K-12 education, tax restructuring, public safety, free-market healthcare options, workforce participation, welfare reform, infrastructure funding, and more—primarily through its Mandate for Madison policy research project.

This multi-faceted endeavor features research projects, outreach and communication strategy, and a 300+ page book featuring in-depth data and analysis from the country’s top policy experts.

And thanks to the Badger team’s foresight and legislative expertise, the Mandate for Madison isn’t just another series of white papers sitting on a shelf, it’s becoming enacted policy that will help millions of Wisconsinites.

Badger Institute’s Research Highlights How to Improve Lives in Wisconsin

“What will make Wisconsin one of the best places to live in America?” That was the foundational question that inspired the Badger Institute team to start the Mandate for Madison.

Badger’s policy director Patrick Mcllheran managed the Mandate for Madison report. Each state has unique attributes and unique challenges, and Mcllheran ensured that every recommendation in the Mandate for Madison addressed a specific Wisconsin need and worked towards a real solution for taxpayers.

The first step of reform is knowing what the problems are. So the Mandate for Madison analyzed how Wisconsin ranks worse than almost every other Midwestern state in productivity and suffers from a less-than-stellar economic freedom ranking.

Then, the Mandate showed how comprehensive tax reform, school choice, criminal justice reforms, healthcare transparency, infrastructure reform, and job licensing reforms can improve life for Wisconsinites across the state.

Wisconsin Lawmakers Advance Reforms Based on Badger’s ‘Mandate for Madison’

Thanks to the Mandate for Madison, there are multiple pieces of legislation now working their way through Wisconsin’s legislature.

Tax Reform

Badger’s team advocated for a flat income tax to replace the state’s progressive system. At the beginning of the legislative session, legislative leaders introduced a flat tax bill as Senate/Assembly Bill 1 and cited much of Badger’s research from the Mandate. The chair of the Assembly Ways and Means committee even told Badger’s team that he read the Mandate cover to cover during a cross-country flight. Legislators regularly consulted with Badger’s experts when drafting the bill and Badger president Mike Nichols testified on flat tax proposals in front of both the Assembly and the Senate.

Even though Wisconsin’s governor is unlikely to sign a flat tax bill, because of Badger, the push for a flat tax is now stronger than ever and hopefully can result in real reforms soon.

Criminal Justice Reform

Exceedingly low pay for Wisconsin defense attorneys and prosecutors was resulting in unsustainably high turnover rates that were slowing down court cases. As MLK said, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

To address this backlog of court cases delaying justice and keeping victims and defendants in limbo, Badger advocated for increasing pay for state defense attorneys and prosecutors to bring them in line with market rates. As a result, In mid-May, the Joint Finance Committee passed a bipartisan pay increase for prosecutors and defense attorneys.


School choice has benefited the thousands of Wisconsin families who have access to it. But too many families don’t. To address this, the Mandate advocated expanding education options for families, more equitable education funding, and restructured revenue streams for those in the choice program.

Badger’s team further bolstered the case for expanding education freedom with videos and articles featuring parents, students, and educators sharing how choice programs transformed their lives. Badger also formed a coalition of sister think tanks and other allies to educate lawmakers and families on the benefits of school choice reforms.

Negotiations are ongoing in the Capitol and thanks to Badger’s advocacy work, legislation is likely to emerge that will help close the funding gap between choice and charter schools and traditional public schools.

Policy debates attract many advocates and experts who are often more interested in delivering talking points than actually passing reforms. But Badger’s research and analysis in the Mandate for Madison not only gave legislators the roadmap they needed to pass reforms and improve Wisconsin for taxpayers, it cemented the Badger Institute as the unquestioned champion of free market and liberty-minded reforms in the Badger State.

For their groundbreaking study that is changing lives in Wisconsin, the Badger Institute was a finalist in State Policy Network’s Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement—in the “Most Influential Research” category.

Categories: News
Organization: State Policy Network