Online Sales Grow, but Federal Action to Address Sales Tax Issue is Stalled

Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 11:56 AM by

Holiday shoppers are increasingly turning to the internet to make their purchases, but Congress has yet to close a loophole that gives online only retailers an advantage over their bricks and mortar counterparts.

Currently, online retailers that do not have a physical presence in a particular state are not required to charge sales tax to residents of that state. That doesn’t mean that these purchases are tax free, though: purchasers are still legally required to pay the sales tax, by declaring it on their income tax form. Few do.

When online-only retailers do not charge consumers sales tax – even though sales tax is owed on the purchases – those retailers have a competitive advantage over other retailers that are required to collect sales tax.

Ideally, Congress would step in to level the playing field between different types of retailers, by passing legislation that would allow states to require all retailers to collect sales tax. Read more

More Tax Cuts for the Best-Off Won’t Help Wisconsin Economy

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 1:19 PM by

A prominent conservative advocacy group is asking Wisconsin legislators to pass additional tax cuts for the richest residents. New tax cuts for people with the highest incomes would do little to create jobs, and would undermine Wisconsin’s ability to build the strong schools and communities necessary to support a strong state economy.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is making tax cuts for the rich a high priority, but state lawmakers have already done quite a bit to cut taxes for people at the top. The top 1% of Wisconsin taxpayers – a group with an average income of $1.1 million – got an average tax cut of $2,518 in 2014, thanks to a combination of three major tax cut packages lawmakers passed in 2013 and 2014. In contrast, taxpayers in the bottom fifth of earners, a group with an average income of $14,000, received an average tax cut of just $48 this year. Read more

Wisconsin Spending Needs Far Exceed the New Revenue Projections

Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 8:19 PM by

State Faces Gap of More than $2.4 Billion between Now and June 2017 

State officials confirmed today what we have feared for many months – that Wisconsin’s spending needs in the next biennium far exceed the projected revenue, and the state must also close a very substantial budget hole in the current fiscal year.  As a result, lawmakers are likely to make cuts that have harmful consequences for Wisconsin children and families and for the investments needed to keep Wisconsin economically competitive. 

Despite the assurances of Walker administration officials over the last couple of months that the state is in strong fiscal shape, the figures contained in a report released by the Department of Administration (DOA) today confirm that balancing the state budget in 2015-17 will require very deep spending cuts or significant tax increases. Specifically, the DOA document reveals the following:

  • Tax revenue for the current fiscal year is now expected to be $82 million below the amount estimated in May (on top of a $281 million tax shortfall in the first half of the biennium), and net appropriations are estimated to be $43 million less.
  • Read more

New DOR Report Foreshadows Budget Challenges

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 9:13 PM by

An economic forecast issued Monday by the Department of Revenue (DOR) provides more evidence that Wisconsin will face substantial budget challenges in the current fiscal year and the next biennium.  According to that document, which is the fall 2014 Wisconsin Economic Outlook, the nation’s economic growth will fall well short of what DOR assumed in its last report, which was issued in January.  (These used to be known as the quarterly economic reports, but for some reason are now issued irregularly and just once or twice a year.)

The January economic report was issued in conjunction with increased state revenue projections, which helped persuade state lawmakers to enact substantial tax cuts. But over the last 10 months the estimates of the national* economy, i.e. the “gross domestic product” (GDP), have changed as follows:

  • The anticipated GDP in 2014 is now $152 billion less (-0.9%) than assumed in January. 
  • The estimate for 2015 is $210 billion lower than previously anticipated (-1.1%).
  • Read more

Delay in Revenue Transfer Makes State Budget Balance Appear Larger

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 7:36 AM by

A close look at Wisconsin’s annual fiscal report released last week reveals that state officials delayed a $25.75* million transfer, which made the budget balance larger than it otherwise would have been at the end of fiscal year 2013-14. However, that’s a cosmetic and deceptive improvement in the budget balance, since the payment will still be made during the current biennium.  And because the Department of Administration  (DOA) report buries mention of the delay in a footnote, that document presents a somewhat misleading picture of the difficulty of avoiding a budget shortfall in the current fiscal year.   [*That figure is a correction to the original post, in which I incorrectly wrote that the delayed amount was $27.5 million.]

According to the DOA’s fiscal report released on Oct. 15, the General Fund balance at the end of the last fiscal year was about $517 million, which was $207.5 million lower than what state lawmakers were anticipating when they passed a tax cut bill early this year.  Read more

When “Tax Reform” Means a Tax Cut for the Richest, and a Tax Increase for Others

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 7:29 AM by

When you hear a policymaker advocating for “tax reform,” it’s worth checking the fine print.

There’s nothing wrong with the goal of improving Wisconsin’s tax structure. But two recent “tax reform” proposals would shift the responsibility for paying taxes away from those who are well-able to pay and toward everyone else, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Budget Project. Instead of true tax reform, these proposals are actually tax shifts – shifts that would require families with low and moderate incomes to pay more in taxes so we can give tax cuts to the highest earners.

The most recent tax shift proposal comes from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which recommends extending the sales tax to a number of goods and services that are not currently taxed and using the revenue to lower other taxes. Among the 24 things that would be newly taxed are basic necessities such as food, water, and fuel for residential use. Read more

Categories: Blog, sales tax, STATE TAXES | Comments Off

Replacing a Stable Revenue Stream with a Far Less Predictable Source

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 7:20 PM by

Governor Walker floated the idea this week of replacing the current gas tax with a sales tax on motor fuel. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it would be good public policy because it would replace a stable revenue stream with a tax source that is far less predictable.   (You can read more about the idea in this Journal Sentinel article.)

Although we don’t have details of what the plan would look like, the Governor said it would be revenue neutral – at least at first. But clearly the intent is that the sales tax approach would generate more revenue over time, as gas prices increase, and I think that’s a reasonable assumption to make. However, fluctuations in gas prices mean that in any given year this source of revenue could fall well short of the anticipated level.  

From a political perspective the chief virtue of the plan, perhaps the sole virtue, is that it offers a way of potentially raising more revenue for transportation projects without periodically asking elected lawmakers to vote on gas tax increases. Read more

Proposed EITC Funding Shift Reveals another Budget Hole

Friday, October 10, 2014 at 4:50 PM by

TANF Funding Squeeze Creates a Substantial Budget Challenge 

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) budget proposes a very large cut in the portion of funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit that comes from the federal welfare reform block grant, which is known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Specifically, the department’s 2015-17 budget proposes cutting $55.8 million from the TANF funding that gets transferred to the Department of Revenue, which would mean that state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) has to fill the very substantial gap. 

Assuming the Walker Administration isn’t planning to cut the EITC, I applaud DCF for wanting to use state funds rather than TANF funds to finance that credit for low-income working families. Unfortunately, the Department of Revenue (DOR) budget proposal doesn’t currently include an increased GPR appropriation for the EITC. Taking both agency proposals together, we have a $55.8 million hole that needs to be filled by state policymakers, and that problem is on top of the other structural budget challenges that have gotten more media attention. Read more

Cutting Taxes on Rich, Raising Them for Others Won’t Boost Wisconsin Economy

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 at 3:45 PM by

The best way to create jobs and build a broad-based prosperity in Wisconsin is to invest in excellent schools, safe communities, and a solid transportation network.

But a new report released today takes a different approach, claiming that giving big tax cuts to the rich and raising taxes for others would help the Wisconsin economy. The report, released by the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, repeats the myth that tax cuts create jobs, despite growing evidence to the contrary.

The report advocates changing the state’s tax mix to rely less on the income tax and more on the sales tax, a change the group says would boost the state’s economy. But what the report fails to mention is that the result would be big tax cuts for people with the highest incomes and higher taxes for everyone else. If Wisconsin eliminated the income tax and raised the sales tax to make up for the resulting revenue loss, the top 1% of earners in Wisconsin – a group with an average income of $1.1 million – would get a tax cut of a whopping $44,000 on average. Read more

Categories: Blog, income taxes, jobs, sales tax, taxes | Comments Off

Wisconsin’s Slow Economic Recovery Leaves Many Behind

Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 3:22 PM by

Wisconsin’s gradual economic recovery still hasn’t substantially expanded economic opportunity for working people and families. Median incomes are still well below their pre-recession level, and our state’s elevated poverty levels have yet to begin declining.

Categories: Blog, economy, EITC, In Focus Economic Security, poverty | Comments Off