Good Tax Policy Starts With Listening To TaxpayersMonday, December 15, 2014 - Press Release
Many of you will remember those old words of wisdom from an earlier generation: “God gave you two ears and one mouth — use them in proportion.” That’s good guidance in life, but it’s especially sage advice for politicians, who seem to be the most frequent violators of the rule. Not only is it annoying for voters, but it doesn’t result in the best outcomes for the state, because in reality the best public policy is organic, natural, bottom-up. It isn’t imposed from on high in Madison out on the people, but rather it starts with the people and makes its way back to their representatives in Madison.
This past year, at the behest of Gov. Scott Walker, we set out to do things the right way, with more listening than speech-giving. Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler and I hit the road to hear Wisconsinites talk about taxes. We held 23 roundtables spread across every part of the state, with hundreds more people weighing in online.
At each roundtable, our primary purpose was to just sit and listen as taxpayers brought us their stories, experiences, and ideas. They came from all walks of life — students and seniors, professionals and parents, farmers and realtors, veterans and village presidents. And they came with all sorts of ways to improve our overly complicated and overly burdensome tax code.
As much as we heard from a diversity of folks, we heard common themes across geographies and demographics. And this week we released our report back to the governor summarizing those views. The report focused on your opinions as taxpayers, not our opinions as government officials.
In short, we heard that taxes are too high and too complicated. People feel like the heavy tax burden is a stumbling block both for economic growth and for family prosperity. Though they often feel the impact of the income tax, their ire was especially targeted at Wisconsin’s property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation. It’s a big bill that we feel all at once this time of year, and though we’ve enacted significant property tax relief these last four years, we still have a ways to go.
And when property tax bills come due on the 31st, all of a sudden April 15 won’t seem so far away any more. That brings with it the prospect of sitting down with an accountant or computer program trying to navigate our complex tax code, which has far too many carve-outs and credits according to many roundtable attendees. People at our roundtables constantly asked us to make the tax code simpler, especially for small businesses. We’ve taken a number of steps to align our state’s tax code with the federal code, but again, there’s still more work to do.
So we’ve turned in our report as the governor begins pulling together his budget for 2015-17. As we sit in budget briefings in the governor’s Conference Room at the state capitol, we’ll have above our heads another set of wise words: “The will of the people is the law of the land;” the phrase is literally painted on the panel above the chairs that the governor and I sit in. As we craft our next state budget, we’ll make sure that the people’s voice is heard loud and clear in Madison.