Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Secretary of Administration, Mike Huebsch, caused a kerfuffle recently when he said that the Governor “is considering” eliminating the state’s income tax and replacing the revenue with a larger sales tax. This is not a new concept, but to say it’s a flawed approach to tax reform is an understatement. “For the first time in, I would say the last 20 years,” said Huebsch, “this is getting much more discussion across the nation. And I think it’s being led by governors like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana who are trying to figure out ways that they can eliminate their income tax. That’s really the motivation here. They want to eliminate the income tax.”
Emulating Governor Jindal would be misguided. An Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) analysis found that Jindal’s proposal to eliminate income taxes and replace the revenue with higher sales taxes would actually increase taxes on the bottom 80 percent of Louisianans. Specifically, the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, those with an average income of $12,000, would see an average tax increase of $395, or 3.4 percent of their income. The largest beneficiaries of his tax proposal would be the top one percent, with an average income of well over $1 million, who'd see an average tax cut of $25,423.
Since Secretary Huebsch’s comments, the Governor’s office has responded saying that Walker will propose a “middle class tax cut,” but not the complete elimination of the state’s income tax. For now, anyway.
The Governor’s spokesman did open the door to future, potentially more radical tax proposals when he said, “Governor Walker will propose a middle class income tax cut in the 2013-15 state budget. He considers this to be a down payment on continuing to drop the overall tax burden in Wisconsin in future years. He will review the impact of tax policy on job growth in other states as he considers future reforms."
Wisconsinites should know that a middle class tax cut is, like a Unicorn, commonly mentioned but rarely seen. While there are tax credits (like the making work pay credit and property tax circuit breakers(PDF)) that are genuinely targeted towards middle income families, a tax rate cut for middle income groups is almost always also a tax cut – and a bigger one, at that – for high income groups. That’s just how marginal tax rates work (and the reason across-the-board income tax cuts are such budget busters).
Income tax cuts and even elimination are practically epidemic this year. We’ll be watching to see if Governor Walker catches the bug, too. Meantime, he can already “review the impact of tax policy on job growth in other states” right here, and see that cuts do not, in fact, lead to growth.