A constitutional amendment that would make tax reform more difficult, could deepen recessions, and potentially make it more expensive for the state to invest in building projects is making its way through the Wisconsin legislature.
The proposed amendment would change the state’s Constitution to require a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Legislature to pass an increase in the rate of the state individual income tax, corporate income tax, or sales tax. Under this amendment, the Legislature could raise tax rates without a supermajority if voters approved the change in a statewide referendum.
This proposed amendment was approved by the Assembly earlier in February, and is now under consideration in the Senate. A proposed constitutional amendment requires passage by two consecutive legislatures and approval by voters to be enacted.
If implemented, this constitutional amendment could cause a number of problems, including making it more difficult to reform the tax system, limiting options for cushioning the effects of a recession on Wisconsin’s families, and causing fees to rise. Read more
A broad range of groups sent a letter to state Senators last Thursday in opposition to Assembly Joint Resolution 79, which would require a supermajority vote for legislators to approve certain tax rate increases. The letter, which was signed by 20 organizations, asks Senators “not to tie the hands of future lawmakers by putting a supermajority requirement into the state constitution.”
AJR 79 was approved last week by the Assembly on a straight party-line vote. It would apply to three tax rates: the individual income tax, the corporate income tax, and the sales tax. In contrast to increases in the gas tax and tobacco taxes, which wouldn’t be affected by the proposed amendment, none of the three tax rates that the resolution applies to have increased more than once in the last 28 years.
The letter points out that even though those three tax rates are rarely increased, the proposed constitutional change could have a number of unintended consequences:
“For example, it could have the effect of increasing property taxes by limiting the state’s ability to appropriate funding for property tax relief. Read more
Rejected Plan Included Larger Tax Cuts for Most People and Smaller Structural Deficit
The Assembly approved the Governor’s proposals for the projected state surplus today, without any substantial changes, and rejected an alternative plan offered by Democrats. That plan would have reduced the structural deficit, while also providing larger tax cuts to most Wisconsinites, and more funding for technical school training and K-12 eduction.
The plan offered by Assembly Democrats would have replaced the property tax cuts proposed by the governor with a $500 million increase in a current property tax relief program known as the First Dollar Credit. That credit provides the same amount of property tax relief to the owner of a small home as the owner of a very expensive home or commercial property in the same school district.
The major elements of the Democrats’ proposals are the following:
- Decreasing property taxes by an average of $231 in 2014(15), or $100 more than the Governor’s plan.
Tax Package Costs at least $30 Million More than Generally Acknowledged
Descriptions of the Governor’s tax plan by the executive branch and the media have pretty consistently understated both the total cost and the amount of the income tax portion of the tax cutting that will benefit wealthy Wisconsinites. The reason for that is that the Governor and most reporters have failed to point out that part of the plan is a set of changes in the state’s Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Within a few years that part of the Governor’s proposals will increase the size of the income tax cut by about 50%, but it will only benefit a relatively small number of wealthy state residents.
In his “state of the state” address a few weeks ago, Governor Walker described his income tax plan as providing a $58 savings to a family of four making $40,000, and he added that “no one will get a bigger savings than that.” That would have been an accurate assessment if the Governor had made it clear that he was talking about just a portion of his income tax plan, but he seemed to be describing the full plan. Read more
The tax cut package proposed by Governor Walker is expected to easily pass the Assembly, but some Republican senators are expressing hesitation at approving legislation that digs a deep hole in the next budget.
The tax package sailed through an Assembly committee yesterday, passing on a party-line vote and clearing the way for a vote on the Assembly floor next week.
The Senate has been less eager to approve the package, with Senate leaders citing the need to avoid throwing the budget out of balance in the future. One modification to the Governor’s proposal that may find more favor in the Senate, according to the Journal Sentinel, is to keep the tax cuts largely as the Governor has proposed, but skip the $117 million contribution to the state’s rainy day fund that is included in the package and instead keep that money in the state’s main account. This move would avoid creating a larger hole in the state’s next budget, but would do so by eliminating the most fiscally responsible part 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.
A proposed amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution amendment limits budget options without offering any meaningful advantages in return, according to a new analysis from the Wisconsin Budget Project.
Under the amendment, a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Legislature would be required to pass an increase in the rate of the state individual income tax, corporate income tax, or sales tax. A supermajority vote would not be required to increase the gas tax or increase fees.
Supporters argue that supermajority requirements keep state taxes lower than they otherwise would be. However, history shows this not to be the case. Tax increases are extremely rare in Wisconsin. The sales tax and corporate income tax rates have not been raised in 32 years. The only increase in the individual income tax rate in the last 28 years, which took place in 2009, affected only about one out of every hundred tax filers. Read more
Tax Plan Increases Red Ink in Next Budget and Leaves Holes in This One
Governor Walker conceded to reporters that his new tax cut proposals will increase the red ink in the 2015-17 state budget by about $100 million – meaning that lawmakers will have to grapple with a structural deficit of more than $800 million as the state goes into the next budget cycle.
According to initial statements to the press corps, his proposal includes a $406 million reduction to property taxes, a $98 million cut in personal income taxes, and the use of nearly $323 million to adjust income withholding schedules (which costs the state up front, but reduces the subsequent refunds the state owes to income tax filers). Another $100 million or so will be put into the state’s rainy day fund.
The deeper structural deficit is likely to be the most contentious aspect of Walker’s plan among Senate Republicans, but it is just one of many reasons why I think his proposal is extremely disappointing. Read more
A big jump in state revenue that will be announced soon gives lawmakers an excellent opportunity to invest in Wisconsin’s economic future and to put the state on a sounder fiscal footing by filling budget holes.