Wisconsin lawmakers have passed tax cuts totaling $4.8 billion over six years, according to a new legislative memo released this week. These tax cuts have done little to boost job growth and have forced damaging cuts to Wisconsin’s public schools, universities, and health care system.
Lawmakers have passed dozens of tax cuts since January 2011, including millions of dollars in tax cuts that primarily benefit people with high incomes. And lawmakers aren’t slowing down – the total value of tax cuts has increased each year since fiscal year 2012, and is slated to go even higher, to nearly $1.7 billion per year in the two-year budget period that starts in July 2017.
Among the tax cuts passed since January 2011, according to the memo:
- A 2013 income tax rate reduction that gave an average tax cut of $1,440 to taxpayers earning over $300,000 but an average of just $86 for taxpayers who earn under $100,000.
New standards issued today will substantially improve public access to important information about budget choices made at the state and local level. Because of the historic changes in accounting standards announced today, state and local governments will soon have to report how much revenue they lose to corporate tax breaks given for economic development.
Greg LeRoy, director of Good Jobs First, which has been a vocal advocate for better disclosure of state and local tax breaks, said the new guidelines aren’t perfect, but lauded the new standards and explained their importance:
“States and cities spend an estimated $70 billion a year for economic development, most of it through tax expenditures. But we could only estimate because GASB has never before called for standardized reporting. That’s the historic value of this new standard: taxpayers and policymakers will finally see the true price tag for economic development.” Read more
If you look at a new memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) that itemizes the tax and fee changes in the biennial budget bill, you wouldn’t know that the net effect of the bill is to cut taxes. The fact that the budget bill does cut taxes isn’t obvious in the latest LFB document for a couple of reasons:
- First, the LFB memo summarizes the state-level tax changes and doesn’t examine the reductions in local property taxes that result from increases in state spending for property tax relief and restrictions on local spending.
- Second, the bill uses short-term tax increases to provide a temporary offset to larger long-term tax cuts (and the latter are beyond the two-year time horizon of the LFB analysis).
Lawmakers included four major tax cuts in the 2015-17 budget, at the same time as they were limiting resources for critically important institutions like the University of Wisconsin system and public schools. When fully implemented, the tax cuts will reduce tax revenue by more than $250 million a year.
The four tax cuts include:
#1: Increasing the school levy tax credit.
Cost: $211 million in 2015-17 ($105.5 million per year)
Lawmakers increased the size of this tax credit paid to municipalities. Municipalities must then pass the money through to property owners in the form of lower property taxes.
Only about half the school levy tax credit lowers property taxes for Wisconsin residents on their primary homes. That means a large part of the remainder reduces property taxes for owners of commercial and industrial property and out-of-state owners of vacation homes.
The higher the value of the property, the greater the school levy tax credit is for property owners within an area. Read more
Wisconsin lawmakers on the legislature’s budget committee will probably meet this week to make decisions about a proposed income tax cut for high earners and other changes to Wisconsin’s tax system, among other issues. They should keep in mind that new evidence shows that no state that passed large income tax cuts in recent years has seen its economy grow faster than the national average. Read more
Under Proposal to Eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, Only Highest Earners Would Receive a Significant Tax Cut
Lawmakers have proposed eliminating Wisconsin’s Alternative Minimum Tax, a change that would give a tax cut to some people with high incomes and exclude nearly all taxpayers with incomes under $100,000. The legislature’s budget committee is likely to vote on the proposal next week. Read more
More evidence is piling up that states that made big tax cuts in recent years – including Wisconsin – are failing to keep up with the rest of the country when it comes to job growth. Read more
One of the positive aspects of the Governor’s budget proposals is an investment in Department of Revenue positions to increase tax compliance and improve collection of state and local debts. But despite the fact that those additional positions will yield a tremendous return on the investment, some conservative legislators have balked at providing more staff for DOR. The issue may be debated in the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) this Thursday or Friday, May 29 or 30. (Update: JFC consideration of the DOR issues have been postponed until June 2.) Read more
There’s been a lot of talk in Wisconsin over the last couple of weeks about the need to ensure that tax breaks and loans awarded by Wisconsin’s economic development agency are limited to businesses that are creating jobs and fulfill their job growth commitments. Yet almost no attention has been paid to the fact that the state’s largest tax credit for corporations is ballooning in cost and is distributed to businesses operating in Wisconsin regardless of whether they are expanding or slashing their workforce in our state. Read more
The Joint Finance Committee will vote Thursday on whether to divert more funds from the federal welfare reform block grant to help finance unrelated parts of the state budget. The amount of those funds transferred to the Department of Revenue (DOR) has already been increased dramatically in each of the last two budgets. $62.5 million per year from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant is being used to replace state funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and that maneuver reduces the funding available for important programs to assist vulnerable low-income families.
According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau paper (#215) , federal law would allow the state to transfer up to $12.3 million more to DOR in the next biennium, in order to back out state General Fund dollars for the EITC.
Optimally, legislators should decrease the use of TANF funding for the EITC, which is what the Department of Children and Families (DCF) proposed last fall in the budget request they submitted to the Department of Administration. Read more