Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 19, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The burden on Wisconsin taxpayers is much lighter than it was 20 years ago, but one conservative lawmaker isn’t ready to pop the champagne just yet.
A Wisconsin Policy Forum report issued last week finds that the taxes paid by Wisconsinites as a share of personal income over the past two decades have dropped by about 2 percentage points — one of the largest decreases in the nation.
Wisconsin ranked 19th in 2017, the most recent data available, an uptick from the eighth most tax-heavy state in 1997.
The tax savings are thanks in large parts to a window of eight years, between 2011 and 2018, during which tax-cutting Republicans controlled the Legislature and the executive branch.
Former Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the Assembly and Senate pushed annual reductions in the state’s hefty property tax rates, and they delivered billions of dollars more in income and corporate tax cuts.
Those tax cuts helped spur annual revenue surpluses over the period.
Even in divided government, with liberal Gov. Tony Evers and Republican lawmakers battling over taxing and spending, the current budget delivers about a half-billion dollars in tax relief.
That’s a good start, said state Sen. Dale Kooyenga. But the Brookfield Republican said much more work remains to be done.
“We are definitely moving in the right direction,” Kooyenga said. “It’s not like we have arrived. We should continue to cut taxes.”
In 2017, taxes gobbled up 10.3 percent of taxpayer income in the Badger state, according to the study. That was a slight increase from 2016, but Wisconsin still fared better than other states.
Property tax continues to be a heavy load. Levies by municipalities, schools, counties, and other local governments “represent the single largest tax in the state at 3.5% of personal income in 2017,” the report states.
Kooyenga and other conservatives say they would like to see a more aggressive approach to cutting taxes in the years ahead. Doing so, Kooyenga said, would get Wisconsin out of the bottom tier of tax burden.
While the GOP-controlled Legislature has played “goalie” against Evers’ plans to increase taxes on manufacturers, investors and others, they went along with significant funding increases for education, health services and transportation. In the era of divided government, compromise has cost taxpayers more in fees and government investments.
Don’t look for significant tax cuts in the election year ahead.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit slower,” Kooyenga said. “I don’t see a lot happening, which is okay.”
The lawmaker predicted the majority will continue to hold the line on tax increases.