HEALY: A Growth Agenda for Wisconsin

January 9, 2015

by Brett Healy
President, The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy

With the November election behind us, political discussion at the state level has naturally turned to what new policies the governor and Republican Legislature should pursue next year when they return to Madison.

One special interest group after another has forwarded their narrow, parochial agenda for consideration.

The one group yet to be heard from is you, the hard-working taxpayer. The MacIver Institute has put together a pro-growth agenda that looks at the bigger picture and, more importantly, focuses on your overriding need to keep more of your own money to spend as you see fit.

– Taxes: Let’s face it, taxes are still too high in Wisconsin. Wisconsin ranks 43rd on the Tax Foundation’s Business Tax Climate Index and nearly three-quarters of the country has a lower overall tax burden than the Badger State.

Gov. Scott Walker and legislators should be applauded for reducing the tax burden over the past few years, but we need to continue these efforts next session.

If Wisconsin wants to attract new businesses and keep residents from moving to more tax-friendly states, lawmakers must move toward a fairer and flatter income tax rate that is the lowest in the Midwest.

Since more than half of the state’s businesses file taxes through the individual income tax code — known as a “pass-through” company — a lower, flat rate would help them to reinvest more money into expanding and creating new jobs.

– Spending: Here is a controversial idea — controversial at least for government — let’s actually reduce spending in the next budget. While the state budget in Walker’s first term grew at roughly a third of the rate as under former Gov. Jim Doyle’s last term, spending is still increasing.

Sure, there will need to be spending increases in certain programs like education or Medical Assistance, but Republicans, aka fiscal conservatives, should set a goal of lowering overall spending in the 2015-17 budget compared to the $70 billion Wisconsin spent last time.

If policymakers are serious about controlling our spending, then there is also no better time to study and debate the size and scope of state government. Let’s fundamentally reform what services state government provides. Let’s end wasteful or ineffective programs. And let’s do away with whole agencies and departments that are not imperative to the vital role of state government.

– Greater transparency: To lower government spending in Wisconsin, we need greater transparency at the local level. Taxpayers need a better system that tracks local spending data and one, centralized collection point where taxpayers can go to keep tabs on how every tax dollar is being spent.

The creation of the OpenBook Wisconsin website has allowed taxpayer watchdogs to find countless instances of government waste at the state level. Now, we need the same information readily available for local government.

– Regulatory reform: We need to continue to reform and simplify regulations that strangle existing businesses and prevent new ones from opening. Even after Wisconsin supposedly streamlined the mine permitting process almost two years ago, the proposed GTAC mine is still awaiting final approval, and the hundreds of generation-changing jobs have yet to be fulfilled.

– Right-to-Work: Finally, and probably most importantly, Wisconsin needs to become the 25th right-to-work state in the country. This is not about busting unions or petty politics. This is simply about giving people the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union and growing the Wisconsin economy.

States that have implemented workplace freedom have experienced better economic growth.

According to a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, employment grew by 105.3 percent from 1977 to 2012 in RTW states. Over the same 35-year period, the national average was 71 percent and non-RTW states saw employment growth of only 50 percent.

While we have taken great strides in turning Wisconsin around, now is not the time to coast or play it safe. Now is the time to be bold.

Bold reforms that fundamentally transform the way we provide critical services and dramatically restructure the framework of state government will lay the groundwork for a prosperous Wisconsin for all.

This column recently appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press Gazette, Appleton Post-Crescent, and the Gannett Central Wisconsin papers, among other media outlets.