Friday, March 17, 2006

Scott Walker’s MKE Column Only Based on Reality

MKE, the Milwaukee-based weekly, has a point-counterpoint on the proposed constitutional amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin. The “point” is by Republican gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. The “counterpoint” is by Milwaukee Alderman Mike D’Amato.

I’m only a couple paragraphs into Walker’s column and I’ve already spotted two false statements. (And this is without even going into the fact that Walker focuses solely on taxes in his column, while the proposed amendment is really about revenue.)

False Statement #1: “Taxpayers in Wisconsin live in one of the top five highest-taxed states in the country, and that burden is growing at a pace faster than personal income.”

Actually, a January 2005 report (see page 64) by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that between 1982-1983 and 2001-2002 Wisconsin on average ranked over 10th in total state and local taxes per capita. Never in the twenty-year period did Wisconsin ever rank lower than 7th (and the state only hit that low mark once).

What’s more, a conference held at the UW-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs in January 2005 found that Wisconsin currently ranks 15th in the US in terms of total tax and fee burden.

Regarding taxes in relation to personal income, Walker is also off the mark. The LFB report shows that the level of state and local taxes relative to personal income was lower in 2001-2002 than it was in all of the previous twenty years listed.

And, corroborating this, the findings of the La Follette School conference showed that income taxes in Wisconsin relative to personal income actually decreased from 1992 to 2004, while sales taxes and property taxes remained steady over the period in relation to personal income.

False Statement #2: “Too many people and too many jobs are moving out of my county - and out of our state - because of the high tax burden.”

According to the findings of the La Follette School conference, local taxes do not play a significant role in where people live. Rather, location is determined more by overall cost of living, which is lower for Wisconsin than all of our neighboring states with the sole exception of Iowa.

The rest of the column doesn’t appear to have any more blatantly false statements, but Walker really runs with the false notion that Milwaukee County residents are fleeing because of taxes.

While it’s true Milwaukee County’s population did decrease by 2% between 1990 and 2000, most of those people certainly didn’t leave southeastern Wisconsin entirely. In fact, populations in the counties surrounding Milwaukee spiked with the 2000 census. Washington County jumped 23.3%, Waukesha County went up 18.4%, Ozaukee County increased 12.9%, and the population of Racine County increased by 7.9%. Surely more considerations went into those moves than taxes; after all, aren’t we to believe taxes are too high in those other counties, too? Indeed, the proposed amendment impacts the entire state, not just Milwaukee County.

Walker then writes the following, which brings him really close to False Statement #3: “In contrast, I proposed four straight county budgets that did not increase the property tax levy from the previous year. The migration of people and jobs leveled off, and we are still fighting to hold the line on taxes.”

While it’s true Walker proposed budgets without increases to the property tax levy, it’s also true that the property tax rate in Milwaukee was decreasing before Walker ever entered office—including the time during which county residents were supposedly fleeing due to high taxes.

According to figures gathered by the UW-Extension, Milwaukee County’s property tax rate has decreased by 10.2% over the past ten years, which ranks the county 64th in the state in terms of property tax levy growth in the last decade out of 72 counties.

And it really depends on how you define “leveled off” when arguing about county migration levels on Walker’s watch. In fact, the Milwaukee County population decreased by 1.3% between 2000 and 2004, which is slightly lower than the 2% of the previous decade, but that decrease could hardly be attributed to Walker’s fiscal policies--which continue to help bring the county closer and closer to fiscal insolvency.

And the MKE column by Walker was limited to 300 words. I can only imagine the web of fictions he could spin given more space.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point of clarification: MKE is not really "alternative" in that it is ownd by Journal Communication, intended to grab ad dollars from the Shepherd-Express market.

Think of it as simply another outlet that JC is giving to the wingnuts in town.

March 17, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for the clarification.

I'll delete "alternative" from my description.

March 17, 2006  

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