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Wisconsin tax burden at lowest level in 50 years 

Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 9, 2020

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — It’s simple math: You cut taxes and the burden on taxpayers becomes lighter.

That’s precisely what has happened in Wisconsin, thanks to north of $8.5 billion in tax relief delivered by Badger State conservative lawmakers over the better part of the last decade.

According to a report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Wisconsinites paid the lowest share of their income to state and local taxes in half a century. The percentage dropped slightly from 10.4 percent in 2018 to 10.3 percent last year, largely due to rapidly rising incomes.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chair of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee, said the tough fiscal decisions during the era of Republican Gov. Scott Walker paid huge dividends for taxpayers. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed more than $8 billion in tax relief in eight years, including the elimination of the state property tax.

“I’ve talked to friends from Illinois, many of them saying, ‘How are we going to get out of Illinois,’” Darling said.

As Empower Wisconsin reported Wednesday, Illinois led the nation in population loss over the decade. That has much to do with the state’s ever-increasing taxes and poor fiscal condition. Many Illinoisans are fleeing to Wisconsin’s improved tax environment.

Last year, Gov. Tony Evers and the Legislature came to terms on a half-billion dollar income tax relief package in the budget. Another significant surplus helped bankroll the tax cuts. Evers, a Democrat, had pitched a plan that would have raised taxes on manufacturers and investors, among others to pay for a tax cut for middle-income earners. Legislative Republicans rejected that plan.

State Sen. Dale Kooyenga has joined a chorus of conservative lawmakers calling for more tax relief this year. He said he’d rather see income tax cuts than property tax reductions, something Senate leadership seems to prefer. The problem, the Brookfield Republican said, is local government officials are maxing out local property tax increases, even as the state has trimmed property taxes by billions of dollars. 

“The locals should hold their elected officials responsible” for their higher local property tax bills, Kooyenga said. “Let’s reward work and allow people to climb that social latter.”

Property taxes last year rose to their highest level in a decade, according to another study from the nonpartisan Policy Forum.

Kooyenga said he’d like to see the elimination of the state’s second tax bracket, although he said he will support tax relief “wherever it comes from.”

Darling said if the state lives within its means and the economy continues to grow, lawmakers should put surplus revenue “back into the taxpayers’ pockets, where it belongs.”

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