Moving Day

Are Walker’s reforms enough to keep Wisconsinites from moving away?

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Forbes wanted to know where everyone was moving, so they contacted United Van Lines. Based on a survey of 125,000 moves in 2012, Americans need more freeways. Actually Forbes was able to compile the top 10 states people are leaving for where the grass is greener.

Wisconsin placed tenth on the list, causing some tittering on the left. Jud Lounsbury, a former flak for former Senator Russ Feingold, wrote, “I think I’ve figured out how Scott Walker is planning on winning in 2014: He’s driving-out all the people that might have voted against him!”

Oh, clever. However, a look at the rest of the list might be in order before we start giggling at the number of people possibly moving south for the winter and the indefinite future.

The number one state on the list for outward migration is New Jersey, home of the Sopranos and the second-highest state-local tax burden in the country in 2010, according to the Tax Foundation. Maybe the moronic antics of everyone on the Jersey Shore had something to do with it.

Running close behind New Jersey is our neighbor to the south, Illinois. Aside from being the home of the Cubs, the White Sox and the Bears, all good reasons to leave, the state is in fiscal chaos. They have raised taxes and may raise taxes again to deal with their employee pension problem. Meanwhile Chicago is banning food carts while people with banned guns are killing people. It’s a liberal paradise down there. In 2010 their combined state and local tax burden ranked 11th in the nation and is only going to go up. Even Oprah lives in Indiana.

So it won’t surprise anyone when it’s pointed out that four of the top five states for combined tax burden made the Forbes top ten states for outward migration. The number one state for combined tax burden, New York, ranked fourth on the Forbes list, getting beaten by West Virginia for the third spot. West Virginians are suffering from the federal war on coal. New Yorkers are just suffering in line to get out.

Wisconsin, of course, ranked fifth on combined state and local taxes in 2010 according to the Tax Foundation. The good news is that, unlike Illinois, the state’s finances are in pretty good shape thanks to Act 10. Wisconsin is now looking at cutting taxes to spur growth. Economic growth means more opportunities here, and more reasons to stay in or even move to Wisconsin.

Such a change would be a dramatic turn from just a few years ago when the state teachers union WEAC was advising their retirees to consider leaving Wisconsin for friendlier tax climates. Jim Doyle was governor then, and the advice from WEAC to its members came before Doyle raised taxes by over $2 billion. Imagine how many WEAC retirees began thumbing through moving van brochures after Doyle raised taxes.

In fact, none of the states in the bottom ten in combined state and local taxes made the Forbes list for the top states losing population for migration. Only one in the bottom twenty, New Mexico, made the list.

Instead, as the Huffington Post points out, states like North Carolina (17), South Carolina (41), Florida (27) and Arizona (40) are getting the population. The exception to the low tax rule is Washington D.C. where business – the business of government – is booming under President Barack Obama.

Of course, location plays a major role, too. All but two of the states in the top ten (New Mexico and Kentucky) are either in the Midwest or the Northeast. The rest of the states are in the classic rust belt, and they’re getting hit hard in President Barack Obama’s economy.

There is some optimism for Wisconsin’s growth. Wisconsin was the only Midwest state in 2011 to add population. I’m sure some of them weren’t protestors and bused-in union activists. The state Department of Administration is projecting growth the second half of this decade. Lower taxes spurring economic growth in Wisconsin would be a great start.