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
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
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
Concerns about increases in income inequality were voiced from a surprising perspective today, when Standard and Poor’s (the bond rating agency) issued a lengthy report titled “Income Inequality Weighs On State Tax Revenues.” The report concludes that “disparity is contributing to weaker tax revenue growth by weakening the rate of overall economic expansion.”
The authors offer this explanation for the correlation between income disparities and economic growth:
“…rising income inequality is a macroeconomic factor that acts as a drag on growth. There is evidence, although not conclusive at this point, that the higher savings rates of those with high incomes causes aggregate consumer spending to suffer. And since one person’s spending is another person’s income, the result is slower overall personal income growth despite continued strong income gains at the top.”
An article in today’s Washington Post sums up the findings in clearer terms:
“Even as income has accelerated for the affluent, it has barely kept pace with inflation for most other people. Read more
A bill under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives could limit Wisconsin’s flexibility in applying sales tax and make it more difficult to invest in schools and communities, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows.
A committee in the House recently approved a bill that would prohibit all state and local taxation of Internet access. Currently, there is a moratorium on new taxes on Internet access fees, but seven states with pre-existing internet access taxes – including Wisconsin – were grandfathered in. This new proposal would eliminate the exception for Wisconsin and other states, and permanently ban all taxes on Internet access.
For Wisconsin, this restriction would reduce the resources the state uses to invest in public education, a healthy workforce, and a solid transportation network. Wisconsin would lose $127 million in tax revenue in 2015 if prohibited from taxing Internet access – resources that could be used to make Wisconsin a more attractive place to live and do business. Read more
It’s easy to explore the effect that changing Wisconsin’s tax mix would have on taxpayer groups at different income levels, thanks to a new interactive data feature put together by the Wisconsin State Journal. Users of the website can see how cutting the income tax and raising the sales tax would result in higher taxes for many Wisconsinites, and give big tax breaks to the highest earners.
The website allows you to set the level of the sales tax and the income tax independently, and see what changes result. For example, you can show how increasing the sales tax to 7.5% and cutting the income tax in half would result in an average tax increase of about $250 for people who earn the least, while giving an average tax break of $25,000 to taxpayers in the highest income group. 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
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
Conservative and progressive thinks tanks often disagree about the merits of tax legislation. Thus, it’s almost a “man bites dog” story when they find a tax cut proposal that both camps agree is bad public policy. One such bill is an Assembly proposal for a sales tax holiday, AB 108, which got a public hearing last week in the Assembly Committee on Small Business Development.
If AB 108 were to pass, it would make Wisconsin the 19th state that provides a brief period when certain types of purchases would be exempt from the state sales tax. In fact, the proposed bill would create two sales tax holidays – the first weekend in August each year for certain clothes and school-related items, and the first weekend in November when Energy Star qualified products would be exempt.