Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch says voters should expect to see "something big, something bold" in the upcoming 2015-17 biennial budget: tax reform.
Kleefisch says the average Wisconsinite's tax burden is "what we believe to be the biggest issue facing Wisconsin's economic development future."
"The Governor has committed to driving down the overall tax burden in Wisconsin every single year that we are in office," she says. "What we don't know is what that actually looks like to Wisconsinites themselves."
So Kleefisch is touring the state with Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue Rick Chandler to host listening sessions and roundtables to talk with residents about ideas and opinions on tax reform. That includes two being held on Tuesday - one for students at Concordia University and a general public meeting at the MATC campus in Oak Creek.
"One of the ways we're kind of falling behind right now is on taxes," she says. 'We are known as the number 10 taxed state in the nation. We're in the top 10 of a bad list. That's no good."
Kleefisch says Wisconsin ranks 10th in the country for highest property tax, 12th for income tax, and 35th in sales tax. The 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index, prepared by the Tax Foundation, found Wisconsin ranked 15th for highest property taxes, 8th for highest individual income taxes, and 36th for highest property tax rate.
However, this ranking does not take into consideration Wisconsin's 2013 tax reduction that was retroactively applied to January 2013 - this reduction will likely bring the state lower on some of the rankings.
"As you know, those income and property tax cuts have not been tremendous, not been enough to take us out of top 10," Kleefisch says, adding that the Governor will take "big and bold" steps to get Wisconsin out of the top 10.
Kleefisch says she splits her time working with job creators, recruiting investors, and trying to get companies to relocate to Wisconsin, but the state's "unfortunate" tax burden makes it less globally competitive.
"We're trying to get our small business owners to hire more folks and trying to get more people to organically grow here. Then they see our tax burden. That's not the type of thing that gives them a stable and certain feeling about economic growth," she says. "We want to signal to those job creators and those workers in Wisconsin who are determining where they'll be most prosperous in the future that Wisconsin is it."
Kleefisch says pretty much all options for lowering taxes are on the table - such as eliminating the income tax, something Governor Walker has spoken about publicly. Kleefisch says increasing sales tax - which would draw in more dollars from tourists from Illinois who don't pay property tax - is another option.
"We know the government still needs revenue," she says. "They still need tax dollars to run, we need our roads and bridges and we also need to make sure we're educating our next workforce and great schools. How do you correspondingly turn the other dials if you turn down one of the taxes that is bugging you? That's what we need to know."
She says residents can also offer their thoughts at the state's tax reform website.