By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — When conservatives swept into power during the Republican Revolution of 2010, they vowed to get Wisconsin’s sorry fiscal house back in order and bring much-needed relief to overburdened taxpayers.
They have delivered on that promise, according to a new memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
The document details $21.9 billion in tax savings between 2011 and June 2023 — the end of the current biennium.
“Since 2011, we’ve kept $22 billion out of government coffers and firmly in family budgets,” said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) after releasing the updated LRB memo.
To borrow loosely from the old Virginia Slims ad, Wisconsin’s financials have come a long way, baby.
As LeMahieu notes, Wisconsin had the 5th highest tax burden in the nation, a $3.6 billion structural deficit and no Rainy Day Fund when Republicans took over the Legislature and the executive branch under Gov. Scott Walker. More than a decade later, the Badger State boasts a projected $3.8 billion surplus, nearly $2.9 billion more than originally projected. And Wisconsin’s reserve — or Rainy Day Fund — now stands at $1.7 billion, or about $1.7 billion more than it was under Democrats.
While an orgy of federal spending and pandemic relief aid have bolstered the state’s bottom line over the past two years, conservatives in control of the state’s budget have routinely presided over hefty budget balances. At the same time, they’ve been able to consistently deliver substantial tax cuts.
According to LFB, over the 12-year period, “tax law changes adopted since January, 2011, are estimated to have reduced cumulative taxes that would otherwise have been, and would be, owed by taxpayers by $21,927.85 million.”
› $13.1 billion in income and franchise tax relief (also includes economic development surcharges)
› $8.65 billion in property tax relief
› $184.17 million in general fund tax relief
“Over the past 20 years, almost no state has seen a greater drop in its tax burden than Wisconsin, which also saw its ranking among states fall from fourth to the middle of the pack,” states a report late last year from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. “Depending on how it is measured, the drop in Wisconsin’s state and local taxes as a share of personal income was the largest or nearly the largest nationally since 1999.”
State Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), noted in a constituent letter that while inflation soars to levels not seen in 40 years, at least taxes are going down in Wisconsin.
Over the 12-year run, conservatives have not only cut taxes, they’ve eliminated some. That includes the repeal of the alternative minimum tax and the state forestry mill tax, a state property tax.
“We know you can do better with the money than Madison,” Kooyenga said.
Laughably, Gov. Tony Evers has taken credit for the latest fiscal successes, including the surplus and a combined $3.2 tax cut. He takes a bow for knowing how to sign his name. In his State of the State address last week, Evers received chortles from legislative Republicans when he bragged about his role. He left out the fact that his original bloated budget proposal sought more than $1 billion in tax increases and billions of dollars in more spending on expanded government.
“If Governor Evers didn’t steal Republican ideas, he wouldn’t have much of a speech at all,” Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said.
If Evers had his way, he would have gotten rid of some of the substantial tax cuts that economic experts say have led to significant increase in corporate and income taxes.
A dozen years later, $22 billion in tax relief. That’s a number made by tax-cutters, not tax-and-spenders. And the victory goes to the taxpayer.
“This is an incredible success story for hard-working taxpayers,” LeMahieu said. “The Legislature will continue our work to reduce the tax burden and the size of government so the people of Wisconsin can keep moving our state Forward.”