Candid Roger

Wisconsin state Sen. Roger Roth hits the mark: Tax burden at a 50-year low


Is Wisconsin’s tax burden at a 50-year low?

That was the claim made by state Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, when he gave the GOP response to Gov. Tony Evers’ 2020 State of the State speech.

In the Jan. 22, 2020, speech, Roth touted Republican-backed investments in the state’s infrastructure, worker training and childhood education. The results, he said, are economic growth, low unemployment, higher wages and frozen college tuition without raising taxes. 

"The average resident’s tax burden is at its lowest level in nearly 50 years, while incomes continue to grow," he said.

Is he right?

The Source

When asked for backup, Roth’s office pointed us to the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s January 2020 report, "Tax Burden Falls Again." The report is an annual review of state and local taxes relative to state residents’ income. The Wisconsin Policy Forum is a nonpartisan research organization.

The tax burden is the total share of taxes compared to income. The Wisconsin Policy Forum compiles all the state and local taxes in Wisconsin, using a variety of reports, such as the state’s Annual Fiscal Report, and information from state agencies.

State and local tax revenue is compared relative to cumulative personal income of all income reported in Wisconsin. Those income numbers are from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The forum’s report shows Wisconsin's tax burden for 2019 was the lowest since at least 1970, which is as far back as the organization has data.

State and local taxes, combined, took up 10.3% of residents’ income in 2019, down slightly from 10.4% in 2018. The state has established a new tax burden low each year since 2015.

Jason Stein, research director at the Wisconsin Policy Forum, noted that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is paying 10.3% of their income. Incomes and taxes vary region to region and person to person.

Noah Williams, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy, echoed that point and said the policy forum’s approach is a reasonable one to use.