The myth of ever-increasing taxes

Gov. Scott Walker did it.

Tuesday morning, April 26, his office e-mailed an opinion piece to state newspapers saying: “We need property tax relief. For too long, middle-class taxpayers have been stuck with the costs of paying for more and more government.”

A while back, I vowed that I was going to set the record straight the next time I heard a politician rail about supposed ever-increasing taxes.

It just isn’t so in St. Croix County, at least.

Anyone can go the county’s website, www.co.saint-croix.wi.us, and discover it for themselves.

Click on “Go to Land/Tax Information” on the right side of the page under “Quick Links,” and then “Go to Tax & Assessment Data.”

Enter only the name of a municipality, click search, and tax records for all of the parcels in the municipality appear. Or you can enter the address or parcel number of a property, and the records for just that property will appear.

I’ve lived in our North Hudson twin home for close to seven years. The first year that my wife and I paid property taxes there was 2005, and the bill was $3,066.

Our tax bills for the next three years were smaller than the first one, reaching a low of $2,921 in 2007. Our obligation bounced upward in 2009, and then settled at $3,163 for 2010.

Our average bill over the six-year span was $3,056, ten bucks less than we paid in 2005.

That doesn’t fit my definition of “more and more.” I wish all of our expenses were that well contained.

What’s happened is that politicians have been highly successful at cutting taxes.

Grover Norquist, president of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, laid out the plan some years ago with the oft-quoted statement: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Cutting taxes is always popular. Who doesn’t want to pay less? The problem is that three decades into this experiment we’re running out of money to provide needed services.

Politicians like to equate government budgets to household budgets, pointing out that households usually curtail their spending when their income declines.

But how many breadwinners do you know who routinely ask for a pay cut? And what family doesn’t look for ways to boost its income when it is having trouble meeting expenses?

That’s been the game. Cut taxes and then say: “We’re broke. We don’t have the money for social programs and education.”

The high-enders, of course, don’t need Medicare or BadgerCare or Social Security or food stamps or public education. They can pay their own insurance premiums, eat lobster and prime rib, and send their kids to private schools.

Federal and state tax rates are the lowest they’ve been since the income tax was started in the early 1900s. Remember when President George W. Bush slashed taxes for the wealthy, and the economic nirvana it was supposed to produce? Instead, we got a financial meltdown in 2008, followed by the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

State, county and local representatives should know, too, that they’re peddling misinformation when they imply that taxes are on the rise.

State Rep. Dean Knudson, a city of Hudson resident, paid $333 less in property taxes ($3,637) for 2010 than he did for 2004 ($3,970). Fellow Assemblyman John Murtha of rural Baldwin paid $137 less for 2010 ($2,893) than he did for 2004 ($3,030).

County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer’s 2010 tax bill ($4,224) was $47 less than what he paid for 2004 ($4,271). Standafer is a fellow North Hudson resident.

North Hudson Village President George Klein’s 2010 property tax ($3,876) was $569 less than his 2004 tax ($4,445).

All the easy cuts have been made after a decade of government downsizing. That’s why we’re getting the extreme measures out of Madison and the pushback against them. There will be pain.

That brings to mind another Grover Norquist quip – if you can believe what you read on the Internet.

“We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals – and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship,” he once said, according to the website thinkexist.com.