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June 5, 2008

A Column of Personal Opinion
By State Senator Sheila Harsdorf

Wisconsin Tax Rank Falls

It has been nearly thirty years since Wisconsin was not amongst the top ten taxed states in the nation. Historically, Wisconsin has been a high taxed state. Today, the average Wisconsin citizen spends about 12.3% of their income on state and local taxes. Wisconsin ranks 11th highest amongst states nationwide.

Lowering tax rankings can be a long, arduous challenge. It requires limiting spending and saying no to the many requests for new taxes and more spending while doing it better than other states. Our recent decline out of the top ten was aided by other states increasing taxes, which is becoming a preferred option for many in the face of diminished revenues due to the national economic downturn.

Here in Wisconsin, billions in new taxes on health care, gas, take-home pay, and homeowners have been proposed. At one point, the Senate majority passed a budget bill this session that would have doubled the tax burden on Wisconsin families by 2010 and easily have propelled Wisconsin to be highest taxed state in the nation. After months of debate, most of these tax increases were blocked.

Getting involved in tax-and-spending decisions is critical at the local, state, and federal level. There will always be well-organized and powerful groups asking to spend more and saying yes can be the easier choice. However, overwhelming public support can change minds.

A clear example of change was over the property tax freeze debate a few years ago. At first the idea of limits were dismissed by the Governor as a “gimmick” that he campaigned against. Since that time, he has come to embrace property tax limits although not as strong as originally proposed.

I think Wisconsin can do better. It will require persistency and reform. The state needs to stop incentivizing more spending and instead embark on providing local governments options to reduce the tax burden, such as public employee health care reform, mandate relief, and changing technical college funding.

What direction do you think Wisconsin should go? Should we keep, strengthen, or end limits on property tax increases? Let me know via email at or call me at 1-800-862-1092. Visit my website at to take a new survey on tax and spending issues.