The Journal Sentinel’s business page today features a report from the Tax Foundation, a traditional bunch of tax-scolds in Washington (the group created – and trademarked – the phony notion of "Tax Freedom Day"). The report purports to rank Wisconsin and other states on its made-up "Tax Climate Index". "Mild relief" by business leaders is reported by the J-S, as "tax-hell" Wisconsin somehow managed to creep out of the bottom-10 states in the ranking.
The report compares all 50 states in terms of corporate, income, sales, property and, strangely, unemployment insurance taxes. The predictable voices from local organizations always looking for breaks and hand-outs, like the always-quoted Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, used the occasion of the report to mutter somberly about the good-bad news. "If you flip that number around, it still means we are 12th-worst," said the WTA. "We're near the bottom," mourned the WMC. Well, yeah, if you want to look at it that way. And, in this election year, these pro-Republican groups certainly do.
On the other hand, take a look at which states are in supposed business tax heaven, according to the report: Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Nevada and Florida. Other than the occasional vacation in the last three, who would want to live or build a business in any of those places? The quality of life seems much better in the tax-hells at the bottom: Rhode Island, Ohio, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. California at 45, Minnesota at 41, Wisconsin as 38 – I’ll take a few extra tax hits to live and work in those bustling, vigorous states any day of the week. Somewhere in Wyoming, a rancher surveys his barren tract of land and revels in his freedom from the taxman. He can have it.
In trying to shame Wisconsin into lower taxes or, apparently, into abandoning some types of taxes altogether (""Every available tax, Wisconsin has," WMC observes), the whining tax foes insult the intelligence of business leaders, here and elsewhere, who take lots of factors into account before moving, building or investing. Any business leader would be foolish to make a major investment decision based on whether his or her prospective employees are going to have to pay a state income tax or not. In terms of resources, quality of workforce and, yes, government’s willingness to support, accommodate and provide tax-breaks, Wisconsin is one of the most attractive states in the country for any kind of business.
Wing-nut radio has been squawking about one such business decision this week. Menard’s has been looking for place to put a new distribution and manufacturing center and had considered its home base in Eau Claire. They ended up building in Iowa and Ohio, but not because of any "tax-hell" (both those states have similar rankings) or because the state was unwilling to work with the company on legitimate environmental issues. John Menard himself issued a statement saying that Doyle’s government has always been willing to provide "substantial assistance" on his many projects in the state.
But the wing-nuts never let the facts get in the way of an anti-Doyle, Green-generated slime campaign. Jay Weber, a third-rate voice on a third-rate radio station (WISN), claimed that all Menard’s had to do was contribute to Doyle’s campaign to get approval. That’s how it works, he claimed. "You give $10,000 now and $10,000 after the approval." Well, according to the Journal Sentinel, Menard himself has given $20,000 to Doyle’s campaigns since 1999. Now, what were you saying again?
Groups like the WTA and WMC, in the end, do the greatest disservice to the people of the state of Wisconsin. By constantly proclaiming Wisconsin a tax-hell, they make it marginally harder for the state to promote itself across the country as a good place to do business. It can’t be worth inflicting that kind of damage just to get incremental rate adjustments or minimal tax breaks.
Wisconsin collects various kinds of taxes because we have an excellent reputation for public services, including schools. The burden should be on those constantly complaining about taxes to tell us what taxes they would cut or eliminate, how they would replace the revenues that are lost as a result, or what services they would be willing to cut after the taxes disappear.
If they won’t or can’t, they should start supporting Wisconsin’s business climate by supporting the state itself.