Major tax reform should be a bipartisan priority in Wisconsin | Waukesha County Commentary

Divided government often means bold policy ideas go by the wayside. But even when different parties control the executive and legislative branches, we should be able to agree on some basic priorities that those we work for worry about every day.

The issues we should prioritize on a bipartisan basis can be abbreviated by “THESE” – for taxes, health care, education, safety and the economy.

It is critical that we lower our state’s perennially high tax burden if Wisconsin is to remain welcoming and prosperous.

Wisconsin has higher combined local and state taxes than 31 states, according to the Tax Foundation’s 2022 report. Our top individual income tax rate of 7.65%, the rate at which most small businesses pay taxes, is one of the ten highest in the country and second-highest in the Midwest. Our property tax burden as a percentage of owner-occupied home value is eighth-highest in the nation.

High taxes drive away workers, retirees and investments. In 2021 alone, Wisconsin lost 92,000 tax filers representing $4 billion in income, $2.6 billion of which went to states with a flat tax or no income tax at all. Common sense tells us that employers, families and retirees consider taxes when choosing where to move or not to move.

Lowering that burden must continue to be a top priority, not just as a matter of principle but in recognition of demographic trends that threaten the future prosperity of all Wisconsin citizens.

According to a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce study, Wisconsin is one of just 14 states with a median age over 40. The number of children under age 5 shrunk by 10% over the last decade and the number of people 65 and older expanded nearly 42%.

Our population growth from 2010-2020 was less than half the national average, total births dropped to their lowest level since 1979, and the fertility rate dropped to a record low.

Most elected officials talk about these issues, but actions speak volumes. Governor Evers’ vetoes of round after round of significant tax legislation will be long remembered for all the wrong reasons.

His tax cut vetoes are dismaying. At first, he said he supported tax cuts but only for middle-class incomes, which he defined as $150,000 for a couple. We listened and proposed major tax cuts for that exact group of people.

He moved the goalposts and vetoed them anyway. One veto stopped a true middle-class tax cut that would have saved the average worker $454 a year and made life easier for all income earners at a time when relief is needed most.

He vetoed eliminating taxes on retirement income, which would have saved the average filer $1,582 a year and kept retirees living and spending their money in Wisconsin. He also vetoed a tax credit for married couples that would have saved the average young family $338 a year.

There was only one significant tax victory this past session when we repealed the state’s personal property tax. That’s meaningful relief for businesses, but hardly transformative.

At some point this session Evers decided to keep your money in the vault in Madison so he can spend it on his own priorities. This might be the right decision for the special interest groups, but it’s wrong for Wisconsin.

Especially now, with the cost of living permanently higher and still rising, making government efficient and cutting taxes is simply the right thing to do. It’s also the practical course if we actually want our state to be welcoming and prosperous for future generations.

While we can’t legislate our weather, we can and should reform our current tax policy if we are going to retain working-age residents and retirees. In the spirit of bipartisanship, let’s advocate for the thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling, and allow them to keep more of the money they earn.

(Sen. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, represents Wisconsin’s 5th Senate District, including Brookfield, New Berlin, Elm Grove and parts of Waukesha, Wauwatosa and West Allis:

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