By Scott Bauer
MADISON — Neither Gov. Scott Walker nor Democratic challenger Mary Burke embraced a conservative think tank’s suggestion Tuesday that more Wisconsin goods and services should be subject to the state sales tax, including health club memberships, groceries and trips to the hair salon.
Walker and Burke said they were focused on lowering taxes and did not say whether they would support an approach such as the one put forward by the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.
“Anything that adds to an overall sales tax increase wouldn’t be on the table,” Walker said after attending the World Dairy Expo in Madison.
He said he wants property and income taxes to be lower four years from now but doesn’t want to raise sales taxes to offset that lost revenue. Instead, Walker said he hopes to provide tax relief by growing the economy.
Burke has said her goal is to “lower the tax burden and ensure our taxes are competitive with our neighbors and with the nation as a whole.” Her campaign spokesman, Joe Zepecki, did not directly answer the question of whether she would support making more goods and services subject to the sales tax.
Republicans who control the Legislature also were slow to embrace the recommendation to apply the sales tax to two dozen goods and services now exempt, including gas, legal and accounting services, bottled water and newspapers.
“Simplifying the tax code has long been one of our priorities,” according to a statement, attributed to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, that did not respond to the idea of broadening the sales tax base. “I think we all can agree that Wisconsin has too heavy of a tax burden.”
Walker has made the roughly $2 billion in tax cuts he signed into law during the past four years a centerpiece of his argument for re-election. Those cuts included lowering income taxes by $750 million and cutting property taxes by $536 million.
Walker has promised that if he is re-elected, property taxes on a typical home will be lower in 2018 than they are now.
Burke said she would focus on tax cuts targeted to middle class and working families through such things as deductions for student loan payments and eliminating a tax deduction for tuition at private K-12 schools. Burke said she also wants to cut property taxes.
The WPRI report was written by researchers at the conservative Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston. It presents a number of different tax-change scenarios, with the goal of stimulating a long-term discussion among policy makers about the best approach, according to the report’s introductory note, attributed to Mike Nichols, the group’s president.
Wisconsin ranks 11th nationwide in all taxes levied as a percentage of personal income growth, based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. But the state’s sales tax rate ranked 36th, an inequity the report’s authors suggested could be eliminated.
“There is a clear need for Wisconsin to step back on firm ground,” according to Nichols’s note, “and consider a new tax mix that lowers more harmful income and property taxes and broadens the sales tax base.”