Monday, April 12, 2010

The Truth About Wisconsin Taxes. How the Republicans

After looking at the following breakdown of figures, to determine if Wisconsin is really a tax hell, I can see why the Republican Party is able to contort the figures enough to scream bloody murder about taxes. Unfortunately, they are more interested in bad mouthing the state and try to win elections, than statistically spinning the numbers to make the state look really good. Shame on the Democrats for not trying hard enough to counter the GOP.

Your head may spin, but take a look at the real breakdown put together. If we wanted to, as a state, we could help the middle class, lower taxes and statistically rank right up there with the best business friendly states. But we need the Republicans to help make the change, and they're only interested in gaining power, using fear and wiping out liberals.

At the end of last year, one Midwestern state emerged carrying its lightest total tax burden since the early 1960s. Only six states nationwide saw a bigger drop in the percentage of taxpayer income taken for government spending over an eight-year period. Once labeled a top 5 tax hell, the state's spending level dipped below the national median after years of restraints on schools and local governments under its past three governors.

The state is Wisconsin.

Fact: Wisconsin ranks 26th in total spending by all levels of state and local government based on the latest figures (as compared with 20th in population, 24th in Gross Domestic Product and 24th in personal income for the same year). Fact: Wisconsin ranks 14th in total tax burden.

Why the gap between spending and tax rankings? Wisconsin relies less than many states on user fees, including things such as tollways, school activity fees and garbage collection charges. It leans much more than most states on property and income taxes. The state's unusual insistence on taxing all types of property at equal rates puts a larger share of the tax burden on middle-class homeowners. The result: Taxes on industrial property owners rank in the bottom half and sometimes the bottom third nationally. In contrast, residential taxes are still easily top 10, and residential owners pay more than two-thirds of all property tax collections, up from half in 1970.

In Iowa, a recent economic surge has turned heads. Unlike Wisconsin, the state has weathered the recession without raising rates on major taxes and has a big reserve fund. Iowa, it turns out, is a national leader in user fees, including school busing charges, parking fees, non-tuition expenses in higher education and school lunches. Its combined ranking on taxes plus fees is 14th. Wisconsin is lower at 19th. Iowa, though, trumps Wisconsin on the image front because national studies don't identify any of its taxes as notably high. Wisconsin's property tax, by contrast, gets attention.

Iowa has successfully developed bio-fuel and wind-energy sectors and does a better job than Wisconsin getting federal funds, receiving $240 more per person from Uncle Sam. When it comes to receiving federal dollars, Wisconsin ranks in the bottom six on that measure. Wisconsin's business climate generally gets subpar grades overall in national studies. But business taxes represent just 39% of all state and local taxes here, 12th-lowest in the country, according to a 2008 study prepared for the Council On State Taxation, a group of big corporations. Wisconsin ultimately will have to decide how low to go on tax and spending.

The first challenge will be to get the facts in front of residents who have seen little relief even as spending increases have moderated. "The overall moderate cost of government in Wisconsin appears to the middle class as a myth because they're the ones carrying the burden," said Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin's Future, a liberal think tank.

Lightbourn, president of the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, sees the recession as a chance to further drop the state's tax ranking in hopes of attracting jobs and residents. State Rep. Robin Vos (R-Caledonia), member of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, endorses a bottom 10 tax ranking and spending freezes on programs for the less fortunate.

Others disagree. "Aiming for the bottom 10 in taxes would put Wisconsin on a path to become a cold weather version of Alabama," said Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. "That's not the way to improve our economic competitiveness or to maintain the high quality of life that Wisconsinites expect."

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