Tax drop is good news, but let’s not go too far
Scott W. Angus is editor of The Janesville Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have no use for cold weather. I don’t ski, sled or snowshoe. The only things I do with snow are shovel it, drive through it and complain about it.
So why have I lived in Wisconsin for all of my 51 years? Why do I tolerate below zero temperatures for months on end and snow piled higher than my mailbox from New Year’s to Valentine’s Day? Why don’t I move south where the breezes are balmy and the winters are warm?
Because I love this state. I’m proud to say I’m from this state. I like what this state stands for and how it cares for itself and its people. Not everyone who lives here appreciates Wisconsin as I do. Many people complain about it constantly, and their consternation often focuses on the state’s relatively high taxes. But I believe you get what you pay for, and in Wisconsin, we pay for and receive quality services.
Our roads, our schools, our social programs and nearly all other government services range from good to outstanding. And now, we’re apparently closer to having the best of both worlds. As reported last week, Wisconsin has dropped out of the top 10 highest-taxed states for the first time since 1980. We’re 11th. Researchers found that Wisconsin residents paid $22.3 billion in state and local taxes in 2006—the last year for which numbers are available. That represents 12.3 percent of personal income. The percent is up slightly, but several states passed us by as they raised taxes to keep up with runaway expenses.
The complainers love to cite the problems with Wisconsin, and we have them. But they are the exceptions, and people who don’t understand that need a little perspective. Travel a bit, and check out the roads in other states. Wisconsin’s are generally good from Ashland to Beloit and La Crosse to Green Bay, whether they are Interstates, highways or county roads.
When it comes to education, Wisconsin’s university system is the envy of most states, and it is a bargain. Our technical colleges are strong, and our K-12 schools produce some of the nation’s best graduates. Our students consistently rank at the top or near the top in the country in ACT scores.
Wisconsin is home to the Progressive Party of Fighting Bob La Follette, and that spirit lives in the programs that provide health care and other benefits to those in need. The safety nets aren’t all what they once were because of welfare reform and other changes, but the state still shows an admirable level of compassion that’s missing in many places.
It’s also important to note that Wisconsin’s fees are low. That pushes taxes higher and makes straight state-to-state comparisons difficult.
I’m pleased that Wisconsin’s high-tax rank has dropped. It gives the complainers less to complain about, and it shows that efforts by state and local officials to control costs are having an impact. Business interests have said for years that our status as a “tax hell” hurts our economic development efforts. This should help.
I’m also a bit concerned. I can live with 11th, but I can’t say that I want Wisconsin to drop much more. If we dip to the 20s, then we’ll be average in rank and probably in the services we provide. I don’t want to live in an average state.
I’ve always lived in a special state, and I hope to grow old in one, too.