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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Wisconsin taxes remain some of the highest

Taxes


Here is Exhibit A why Wisconsin is a tax hell and why I consistently vote against state budget and budget repair bills that increase taxes and spending.

The non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) reports, “Net property taxes in Wisconsin rose 5.7 percent in 2008, the largest increase since 2005, the year before the recent levy limits on municipalities and counties were imposed. The new study notes that 2006 property taxes here were ninth highest nationally and higher than those in all surrounding states.”

School levies increased the most, at 7.4 percent.  County and municipal levy increases were limited to the greater of 3.86% or the increase in property values due to new construction. Due to the slowing real estate market, new construction growth around the state was only 2.5 percent. Even so, municipal property taxes increased by 5.0 percent, and county levies were up 4.5 percent.

Using the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, WISTAX found that Wisconsin property taxes, at 4.4 percent of personal income, were ninth highest in the nation.

Here is Exhibit B. The Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. has completed its annual report estimating the combined state-local tax burden of residents in all 50 states. It concluded that state-local tax burdens have declined due to income growth surpassing tax growth.

That is not the case, however, in Wisconsin. Every year, the Tax Foundation determines the percentage of income residents in each state pay in state and local taxes. Wisconsin ranks number 9 in the country for state and local tax burdens. Wisconsin’s rank was number 10 in 2007.

According to the Tax Foundation, Wisconsinites pay 10.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Wisconsin’s burden isn’t far from New Jersey that ranks number 1 with a state-local tax burden of 11.8 percent.

Surrounding states have lower state-local tax burdens than Wisconsin:

Minnesota: 10.2 percent (#12)

Michigan: 9.4 percent (#27)

Illinois: 9.3 percent (#30)

Iowa:  9.3 percent (#31)

O
ne of the interesting parts of the report is a segment on states where the tax burden rankings have dropped the most:

From 1977 to the present, South Dakota’s tax burden ranking has dropped 25 places from 20th highest to 45th, primarily by maintaining a zero rate on individual and corporate income. The tax burden ranking in Arizona has dropped 24 places from 17th highest to 41st, and the residents there now pay the tenth lowest tax burden. Most of the change came in the wake of a property tax limitation in 1980, and their ranking has changed little since. 

Montana has dropped 22 places, primarily by maintaining a zero rate on general sales.

Colorado has dropped 19 places in the ranking over the last 30 years. It levies every major tax, but the rate on each is among the lowest in the country. Spending discipline in the form of a so-called TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) has helped the state keep tax rates low.

Two politically liberal states have dropped sharply: Oregon and Massachusetts. Oregon has done so by never enacting a sales tax, dropping 16 ranks from 10th highest to 26th. Massachusetts has dropped 17 places by imposing a property tax limitation and keeping a lid on its personal income tax rate, living down its ‘Taxachusetts’ nickname.”

While other states have found the right formulas, Wisconsin continues down the disastrous path of excessive taxing and spending.

Two months ago, I was skeptical of a Wisconsin State Journal article with a bold headline that proclaimed, “Wisconsin falls from ranks of top 10 highest-taxed states for first time since 1980.” Researchers at WISTAX and the University of Wisconsin said this would be only the second time since 1969 Wisconsin has not been in the top ten in taxes nationwide.

How did this happen? As the newspaper reported, “Wisconsin's taxes actually rose slightly in the fiscal year ended in June 2006 but those of other states rose more quickly.” Translation: You’re still paying high taxes, Wisconsin, and they’re not going down.

Judging from the latest reports on our tax climate, it is time to put the corks back in the champagne.

WEAC’s top priority: Elimination of the QEO

Taxes


WEAC (The Wisconsin Education Association Council), the state teacher’s union has released its 2009-10 Legislative Agenda. Topping WEAC’s list of priorities is repealing the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer).

This is another reason the November election is critical. If Democrats maintain control of the state Senate and take back control of the state Assembly, a legislature controlled by Democrats along with Governor Doyle will kill the QEO. The result will be a property tax explosion.

Some background is in order. The QEO was instituted by the Legislature after angry taxpayers statewide demanded action be taken to stop the tidal wave of huge property tax increases. Since its inception, the QEO has helped keep property taxes from being even higher than they already are.

Under the QEO, the compensation package for teachers including salaries and benefits is to be limited to a 3.8 percent increase. Prior to the implementation of the QEO, settlement packages with teachers were much larger, forcing a tremendous burden on taxpayers.

According to data from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) that used figures from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the average total teacher salary and benefit package increase in the years before the QEO was 8 percent during 1984-85, 8.4 percent during 1985-86, 7.7 percent during 1986-87, 7.4 percent during 1987-88, 7.1 percent during 1988-89, 7.3 percent during 1989-90, 7.4 percent during 1990-91 and 6.9 percent during both 1991-92 and 1992-93.

Enough was enough. Taxpayers protested. The Legislature heard and listened, and the QEO was adopted.

In reality, most school districts do not stay within the QEO, agreeing to settlements that surpass the 3.8 percent limit. The WASB reports that the average total package of salaries and benefits was 4.29 percent during 2006-07, 4.25 percent during 2005-06, and 4.31 percent during 2004-05. The percentages are higher than the rate of inflation, and more than likely are greater than increases provided in the private sector.

The QEO must remain intact. Without the QEO, spending and taxes will rise substantially, more people will leave their homes, more people will leave the state, and more jobs will be lost. We cannot afford to lose the QEO.

States shouldn’t rely on cigarette tax increases

Taxes


Proponents of large cigarette tax increases like to point to the additional revenue the tax hikes will bring in to the state Treasury. There is one problem with that assumption. What happens if many of the revenue sources, the cigarette smokers, stop smoking?

Maryland politicians are now dealing with that very scenario. While they begrudgingly admit some satisfaction with fewer cigarettes being sold in Maryland, they are less than thrilled that the smokers have simply gone to nearby Virginia where the cigarette tax is much cheaper. Maryland has lost sales and much-needed revenue and has reacted by making it a crime to carry two packs of cigarettes that weren't purchased in Maryland.

The Maryland experience demonstrates the folly of government depending on cigarette tax increases. Read more in the Wall Street Journal.

Deadline coming to register cell phones on No Call List

News you can use


You will soon be hearings news that the deadline is fast approaching for signing up for Wisconsin’s first No Call List that will include cell phone numbers. In the previous legislative session, the legislature approved a bill that was signed into law allowing cell phone numbers on the popular No call List.


The state puts out a No Call List quarterly. To get on the next list that comes out October 1, 2008, cell phone users must register their numbers by August 31, 2008.

Consumers can sign up for the list free of charge by calling 1-866-9NO-CALL . They can also register at the Wisconsin No Call List Web site.

Again, as I have stated in the past, while the new law gives cell phone users the option of registering their cell phone numbers, I urge thoughtful consideration.

Federal law prohibits telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phones. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises that you may put your personal cell phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, and now you may soon have the option to place your cell phone number on Wisconsin's No Call List. However, there is generally not a reason to do so.

Registering your cell phone is unnecessary and a very bad idea. Cell phone numbers are unpublished. If you provide your cell phone number to the national do not call list, suddenly, it becomes a published number. The lists of numbers must be purchased by telemarketers so they can comply with the do not call registry. It would be extremely easy for unscrupulous entities and foreign, international entities to get their hands on the numbers. Your best bet is to avoid registering your cell phone.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a news release stating: "Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent. The national associations representing telemarketers have stated that their clients do not intend to start calling consumers' cell phones.”

I
do suggest registering your residential land line number on Wisconsin's No Call List. You can sign up over the phone by calling 1-866-9NOCALL (1-866-966-2255), toll-free in Wisconsin or you can sign up at the Wisconsin No Call List website.  Registration is free.

I'm on WISN

Mary in the media

This morning I appeared with Jay Weber on Newstalk 1130 WISN to discuss the state’s idea of using service stations to perform emissions testing.

You can hear the interview here.  Click on LISTEN under Hour 1, Part 2.

The audio will be available until Thursday morning at 7:00.

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