Republican Gov. Scott Walker is touting the success of a plan that has seen taxes in Wisconsin at their lowest point since the start of the decade.
Walker's re-election campaign points to achievements such as the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit, which was enacted to provide tax relief to many small businesses across the state.
He’s being challenged by Democrat Tony Evers, who has been canvassing the state with a tax plan that could be called fluid. Evers is advocating for tax cuts, for example, for nearly 900,000 residents while also expressing a willingness to raise taxes. One example he’s considering is raising the state's gas tax to help pay for road improvements.
Walker is proposing several new tax initiatives including "The New Graduate Tax Credit." This is intended to help keep more college graduates in Wisconsin. Although its true impact may be felt in multiple areas, Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg said, “This has a twofold benefit of providing a workforce for our growing small businesses as well as keeping more of our own homegrown innovators and business creators here in the state.”
John Koskinen, long-time chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, says the economy in the state is the best that it’s been in 18 years. He attributes that good showing to the state's lower taxes.
“Wisconsin's tax climate is the best in more than 50 years,” said Patty Mayers, communications director at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
In August, the Washington, D.C. based Tax Foundation issued its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. Of the fifty states, Wisconsin was ranked 38th.
“The most poorly ranked element of the state’s tax system is the individual income tax, which ranks 43rd in the country, chiefly due to its relatively high top marginal rate of 7.65 percent," the Tax Foundation concluded. "Another component that contributes to Wisconsin’s poor Index ranking is the top statutory corporate income tax rate of 7.9 percent, which ranks lower than some of the state’s neighbors but remains among the highest nationally.”
Evers has not announced a definitive tax plan, but at a recent news conference he hinted that all options are on the table.
“We will, it will be our goal to keep taxes reasonable in the state of Wisconsin," he said. "I can’t say that it may look different, we may look at having taxes being shifted a little bit because we want to make sure our working people in the state of Wisconsin get a break.”
Walker campaign spokesman Altenburg said Evers will raise taxes and hurt the state's businesses.
"Scott Walker’s investment in our workforce, reforms to cut taxes, and work to streamline regulations have helped small businesses grow and create jobs," Altenburg said. "While Scott Walker has lowered the tax burden facing job creators, Tony Evers’ reckless plans to raise property, income, and gas taxes would take Wisconsin backward and hurt our state’s small businesses."
The two sides have been equally at odds over corporate tax plans. Walker worked closely on an incentive package that was worth billions of dollars but that ultimately brought the international manufacturer Foxconn to Wisconsin. When asked if he would make a similar deal, Evers replied: “For Foxconn, that’s a $4 [billion]or $5 billion deal that was cut by Scott Walker for a foreign company. It makes no logical sense. It’s just way too expensive. We’re subsidizing salaries, positions and that corporation for 25 years. That’s not where we want to be in this state.”
Mayers argues that tax incentives of that nature are what helped the Wisconsin economy get to where it is today.
“There are a number of factors at play in the state's strong economy, and improvements in the tax code have certainly played a role," she said. "Income tax reductions, the manufacturing and agriculture credit and property tax reductions have helped workers, businesses and property owners.
“Additionally, factors such as an excellent education system, skilled workforce, worker training, improved regulatory climate, solid infrastructure, available real estate and solid government finances work in tandem with the tax structure to create a very favorable environment for economic growth,” Mayers added.
Representatives for both Evers and his running mate, Mandela Barnes, did not respond to requests for interviews for this story.