Report Released Today Recommends State and Federal Reforms to Close Offshore Tax Havens
Maine legislators recently gave preliminary approval to a bill that could make it the third state to pass legislation to crack down on corporate tax avoidance in off-shore tax havens. The proposed legislation would close the so-called “water’s edge” loophole by requiring corporations to report income from a list of 38 known offshore tax havens. Passage of the bill would generate an estimated $10 million per year (in a state less than a quarter of the size of Wisconsin).
Oregon and Montana have already enacted such legislation. In 2010, Montana recovered $7.2 million, and state analysts expect Oregon to recover $18 million this year. The problem costs states about $1 billion, according to a report by US PIRG report. You can read more about the bills in these three states in an April 3 Washington Post blog post. 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
On the same day that the state Assembly passed a substantial property and income tax cut package, it declined to reverse a recent tax hike for parents who work at low-wage jobs.
The $537 million tax cut package, which diverts money that would otherwise go to the state’s rainy day fund, has already been approved by the Senate and now goes to the governor for his signature. (For more about the tax cut, read our March 4th blog post, Five Things to Know about Wisconsin’s Proposed Tax Cut Package.) ”That’s exactly what taxpayers want — giving their money back to them rather than keep their dollars here in Madison,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
Despite the Assembly’s enthusiasm for cutting taxes, it missed a chance yesterday to roll back a recent tax increase for families with low incomes. The Assembly failed to advance a bill that would repeal changes made the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2011 that resulted in working parents with low incomes paying higher taxes. Read more
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.