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Making it more difficult to raise taxes



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February 16, 2011 | 07:56 AM
In 2003, then-Gov. Jim Doyle received praise from members of the Legislature on both sides of the aisle when he pledged not to raise taxes in order to solve the state's budget deficit. His exact words — "we should not, we must not, and I will not, raise taxes" — were met with thunderous applause during his first budget address to the Legislature. Those words echoed throughout the Chamber that night, and for many months to come. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of that speech dissolved over time, as subsequent state budgets were dealt with billions in new and increased taxes.

As the new governor and Legislature prepare for the 2011-13 state budget, we know raising taxes may be an easy way out to solve a short-term fiscal problem, but that it only leads to long-term financial crisis much greater than just a budget deficit. In fact, the many tax increases enacted over the last several years have done nothing to solve Wisconsin's budget deficit, as it repeats itself budget after budget. In order to solve this problem in the public sector, the private sector must be allowed to succeed. We can not tax our way out of this mess, we must grow our way out.

While I firmly believe that is the sentiment of the day, there is no guarantee future legislatures will hold true to it. That is why Legislation was recently adopted to statutorily require a two-thirds "super-majority" vote of the Legislature in order to raise taxes. Under the bill, which governor Walker has pledged to sign, no increases to the income, sales, or business tax may be adopted by the Legislature unless the two-thirds majority standard is met, or if the legislature adopts a joint resolution seeking a recommendation from the voters to do so through a statewide referenda. In either case, raising taxes in Wisconsin will become much more difficult, as I believe it should.

Now that the bill has been passed, the next step will be an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution fortifying that position. Bear in mind, the statutory change could be repealed by a future Legislature, thus a constitutional amendment would hinder any effort to do so. But since changes to the Constitution take a bit more time to achieve, the revision to statute at this time is necessary. By doing so, we are sending a clear message to voters of our commitment to hold the line on taxes.

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The super-majority tax increase law is not a new concept, as 16 states currently require such a vote of their legislature to raise taxes. Most of those states opt for the two-thirds standard, but some require three-fifths vote, while two others have set the requirement at a three-fourths vote. While the implementation and rules vary from state to state, the over-riding principle is to prevent simple majority votes on tax increases.

When this measure is signed into law, it joins a whole host of initiatives to effectively change government in Wisconsin. In addition, it will be added to our efforts of making Wisconsin more attractive to employers who wish to expand their business, offer their current employees better wages and benefits, and have the resources to hire new employees. Finally, it will put the collective feet of lawmakers to the fire and require the rhetoric to match the actions of this, and future, legislatures.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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