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Politicians: Taxes aren’t the answer

By Matt Pommer

A higher Wisconsin sales tax may be in your future.

The latest push for increased sales and so-called consumption taxes comes from a consortium of movers and shakers in Wisconsin. Dubbed the Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy, their report would shift the tax burden from property and income taxes.

Sponsors of the project included groups representing builders, counties, teachers, Realtors and hospitals.

Earlier this year a similar tax theme was promoted by the Wisconsin Way, which includes teachers, road builders and Realtors, and has among its ranks municipal and county governments. It suggested the move toward higher sales and consumption taxes.

Consumption taxes? One of the Wisconsin Way ideas was paying for police and fire protection with fees rather than property taxes. That idea seemed aimed at the hysteria that accompanies anything called a tax.

Perhaps if it is called a fee it won’t bother the average citizen when she writes a check.

Few red-blooded Wisconsin politicians are willing to suggest any higher tax, especially the sales tax.

Instead, the politicians would have you believe that the state, facing a $3 billion shortfall in the next biennium, will solve its problems by eliminating waste, fraud and corruption.

If you don’t like taxes there may be another solution. The new governor and Legislature could allow Milwaukee County to file for bankruptcy.  A report being drafted by the Greater Milwaukee Committee, a group of civic leaders, suggests Milwaukee County is on the brink of financial disaster, and sees bankruptcy as a future possibility.

The committee had decided to delay its final report until after the general election. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is the Republican candidate for governor. Bankruptcy may seem nifty to some, but not to those who own county bonds or whom the county owes money. Bankruptcy could drive residents and corporations out of Milwaukee County. It would be difficult to recruit new firms into a bankrupt county with services being unclear.

With Republicans expected to gain seats in the new Congress, it seems unlikely the federal government will provide significant money to states, counties and municipal governments.

But there are a lot of states, some with Republican governors, that are passing budgets assuming massive federal assistance. The new California budget, for example, assumes $5 billion in federal aid.

Republicans say they want to cut the federal deficit and continue federal tax cuts even for the wealthy. They may sound contradictory, but this is election season.

That leaves state government as a possible helping hand for Milwaukee County. That’s why the push for a higher sales tax and increased consumption taxes may be on the horizon.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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