The Very Bad Fiscal News for this Year Offsets Improved Revenue Estimates for the Next Biennium
New budget figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) indicate that the state is on track to have a $283 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year. That hole is $153 million deeper than what the Department of Administration (DOA) had indicated in November.
Of course, the Fiscal Bureau isn’t predicting that the state will actually finish the fiscal year with a substantial deficit; they are sizing up the amount of red ink that the Walker administration and state legislators have to eliminate in order to meet the constitutional requirement to have a balanced budget.
On many occasions in 2014, we expressed concerns that state lawmakers were going to have to make painful budget cuts before the end of fiscal year 2014-15 because the tax cuts enacted early last year were based on overly optimistic revenue estimates and because the state was planning to draw down almost all of the anticipated balance. Read more
The Department of Revenue (DOR) issued its report on December tax collections today, and at first blush the numbers look bad; however, I think they may actually suggest a modest upturn – relative to the November estimate for the current fiscal year (FY). Whether that assessment is accurate will become apparent later this week when officials release updated state revenue estimates for FY 2014-15 and for the next biennium, which begins on July 1.
What the short new report reveals on its face is that tax collections were down by 2.6% in December, compared to the same month in 2013, and tax collections for the first half of the current fiscal year were down by 2.7% compared to the last six months of 2013. Individual income tax collections for the last half of 2014 were down by 6.4% or $232 million, and corporate income tax revenue was down 8.0% or $38 million. Read more
Wisconsin’s state and local tax system is tilted in favor of those with the highest incomes, according to a new report released today. Wisconsin taxpayers with low and middle incomes typically pay much higher rates of state and local taxes compared to taxpayers with the highest incomes. Some Wisconsin policymakers are advocating for changes that would make our tax system even less equitable, by increasing taxes for most taxpayers to pay for tax cuts for residents with the highest incomes.
Wisconsin taxpayers with the lowest incomes – less than $22,000 a year – pay 8.9% of their income in state and local taxes in 2015, as shown in the chart below, and middle-income taxpayers will pay 10.1% of their income in taxes. In contrast, the top 1% of taxpayers – a group with an average income of $1.1 million – will pay just 6.2% of their income in taxes. The effective state and local tax rate takes into account the deduction from federal taxes. Read more
New figures released last week by the Census Bureau show that total state and local spending and revenue in Wisconsin is not much different in Wisconsin than the per capita figures for the nation as a whole. For example, our analysis of the new data – which is for state and local revenue and spending in 2012 – found the following:
- Wisconsin ranks 25th in total revenue (including federal aid) per capita, and was 1.5% below the national average on that measure.
- Looking at all state and local revenue per capita, but excluding federal financing, Wisconsin ranked 19th and was 1.1% above average.
- We ranked 24th in total spending per capita, 2.9% below average, and 21st (just 0.2% above average) in a slightly narrower spending measure – direct general spending – which I think is better for comparative purposes because it excludes things like state-owned enterprises.
Wisconsin’s figures are higher compared to the national averages when they are measured relative to income, because personal income in Wisconsin is well below the average nationally. Read more
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
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
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.
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%).
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 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