State policy choices contribute to the growing divide in income and wealth between the richest and poorest Wisconsinites. Although most parts of the state and federal tax codes and federal entitlement programs are adjusted (“indexed”) each year for inflation each year, Wisconsin programs that assist low-income households are less likely to be adjusted for inflation. The decision to freeze those forms of assistance means they are steadily eroded over time – to the detriment of struggling low-income workers and their communities.
A recent article by Chris Rickert in the Wisconsin State Journal contrasted the erosion of several forms of public assistance – including Wisconsin Works benefits, the Homestead Tax Credit, and the state minimum wage – with a proposal by some GOP members of the state legislature to periodically adjust campaign contribution limits for inflation. I was reminded of that article by two new reports issued late last week that shed more light on the effects of not adjusting the Homestead Tax Credit and Wisconsin Works: Read more
Wisconsin’s property tax credit for low-income homeowners and renters is declining because – in contrast to most of the rest of the tax code – it isn’t adjusted for inflation. New figures released last week by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) show the credit is falling even faster than the Governor’s budget assumed, and the following chart illustrates the decline.
Legislators Can Avoid Deep Cuts without Raising Taxes
Wisconsin needs a budget that invests in the building blocks of a strong economy. Healthy families, safe and stable communities, and a well-educated workforce are assets critical to helping Wisconsin remain an attractive place to live, raise families, and do business. By strengthening these resources, the state budget can lay the groundwork for broad-based prosperity and an economy that works for everyone.
Unfortunately, the budget proposed by the Governor makes deep and unnecessary cuts to investments vital to Wisconsin’s long-term economic success. For example, the proposed budget would reduce resources for public education – a cut that would come on top of dramatic reductions in resources that have already occurred. The budget would also make deep cuts in state support for the University of Wisconsin System, giving a tremendous blow to one of the engines of Wisconsin’s long-term prosperity. The proposed budget would also make it harder for people with disabilities to get the help they need to contribute to their communities. Read more
Property Tax Cut Contributing to Deep Budget Cuts Benefits Second Home Owners and Profitable Corporations, Among Others
The budget proposed by Governor Walker includes significant new tax cuts, as well as deep cuts to the University System and public schools to pay for the proposed tax cuts and ones in the past. A new analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project describes how one of the new tax cuts would do little to lower property taxes for Wisconsin homeowners on their primary residences.
In the budget, Governor Walker has proposed a $211 million increase over two years for a property tax credit called the School Levy Credit. But the way the credit is structured means that an estimated $103 million, or 49% of the proposed increase, would go towards boosting the bottom line of businesses and corporations, reducing property taxes for owners of second homes, cutting taxes for people who live outside of Wisconsin, and other purposes that wouldn’t do much to lower property taxes for Wisconsin homeowners.
If lawmakers want to cut property taxes, there’s a much better way of doing it that provides targeted relief to people with high property taxes relative to their incomes. Read more
Wisconsin is a better place when we all do well. Unfortunately, while the wealthiest have seen their incomes skyrocket in recent decades, incomes have stagnated for the middle class and low-income people. It’s becoming harder to stay in the middle class in Wisconsin.
Our state tax system makes this problem worse. In fact, if you look at who pays taxes in Wisconsin, it turns out that middle-class and low-income families pay a bigger share of their incomes in state and local taxes than the wealthiest households in the state. We call on struggling families to pay 9.6 cents out of every dollar they earn in state and local taxes, while the wealthiest taxpayers pay just 6.9 cents out of every dollar of income. And many large, profitable corporations in Wisconsin pay little or no state income taxes.
Wisconsin’s Earned Income Tax Credit helps address this problem by allowing parents who work at low-wage jobs to keep more of their income, making it possible to afford basic necessities. Read more
Odd Man Out: Unlike the Rest of the Tax Code, Homestead Tax Credit is Not Adjusted for Rising Cost of Living
When it comes to the Wisconsin tax code, the Homestead Tax Credit, which provides property tax relief to owners and renters with low incomes, is the odd man out. That’s because the Homestead Credit is the only significant portion of the tax code that is not adjusted to keep up with the rising cost of living. The consequence is that Wisconsin residents with low incomes see their property tax relief shrink a little more each year.
Nearly all elements of the tax code are indexed, or adjusted to keep up with inflation and other rising costs. For example, each year the income levels for different income tax brackets increase slightly, so that the brackets are kept comparable from year to year. And in the past year, the Legislature has approved bills adjusting a couple of other tax laws for inflation, such as the recent legislation to annually index the EdVest program, which includes a tax deduction for contributions to EdVest savings accounts. Read more
Tiny Piece of Projected Surplus Could Mitigate Recent Tax Increases on Families and Seniors with Low Incomes
Many of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable families and elderly adults would not get much help from the Governor’s plan for the projected state surplus. That could change if the Legislature were to use a small fraction of the surplus to undo recent cuts to the Homestead Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.
New Analysis Examines Why the Surplus Should be Used to Help Low-income Wisconsinites
In his recent “state of the state” address, Governor Walker said that his plan for using the state surplus aims to “ensure we don’t leave anyone behind in our economic progress.” I applaud the Governor for expressing that objective, but a careful analysis of his plan shows that state lawmakers should amend the special session tax bill if they truly want to accomplish the goal of not leaving behind the Wisconsinites who have been struggling the most in recent years.
After analyzing where the surplus comes from and who gets the benefits, the Wisconsin Budget Project prepared a short paper that explains why some of the surplus should be used to make at least some modest improvements to the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Homestead Credit. You can find that short document here: “Top 10 Reasons to Increase Tax Credits for Low-income Households.”
Our analysis notes that the bottom 40% of taxpayers will get just 15% of the benefit of the Governor’s plan. Read more
Governor’s Remarks Omit the Effect of Cuts to the Alternative Minimum Tax
In his State of the State address last week, Governor Walker talked about two tax cuts he plans to make using the state’s projected surplus: a $406 million cut in property taxes and an income tax cut. With respect to the smaller portion of that two-part plan the Governor said:
“…we will reduce income taxes by $98.6 million. To ensure we don’t leave anyone behind in our economic recovery, we will target this tax relief to the lowest income tax bracket. If you’re a family of four making $40,000, your savings will be $58. No one will get a bigger savings than that.” (emphasis added)
That’s an accurate description of the income tax rate cut the Governor proposed, but it’s far off the mark with respect to his full plans for cutting state income taxes. The biggest problem with his statement is that Walker didn’t mention that his new special session bill will also cut the Alternative Minimum Tax – a change that benefits high income Wisconsinites and has a price tag that will grow to nearly $51 million per year by 2016-17. Read more
The distribution of the tax cuts proposed by the Governor isn’t our chief concern about how he would use the projected state surplus. We’re primarily concerned that Governor Walker’s plan ignores holes in the current budget, and creates a deeper hole in the next one – boosting the structural deficit in 2013-15 to about $825 million.
That said, many people have asked us about the distribution of the proposed tax cuts, and we asked the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) to crunch the numbers for us. The ITEP analysis — which focused just on the two major changes in the Governor’s plan — found that the top 5% of Wisconsinites, who made $161,000 or more in 2013, will get 18% of the tax cuts. By contrast, the bottom 40% get just 15% of the benefit.
If one divides state residents by income into five groups (“quintiles”), the ITEP analysis reveals the following:
- The bottom fifth of Wisconsinites, who were making less than $21,000 per year in 2013, would get 5% of the $500 million tax cut, and an average tax cut of $39.