One of the favorite boasts of Republican Gov. Scott Walker -- and one he’s sure to repeat as he runs for a third term in November 2018 -- is how much he has cut taxes.
In an online re-election ad released April 17, 2018, Walker claimed a number of tax-cut accomplishments, including this one:
"Property and income taxes will be lower in 2018 than they were in 2010."
The answer: Yes, with some caveats.
In a nutshell, total property and income tax collections are higher now than they were. But that’s partly because of growth, such as property taxes based on new construction, and income taxes paid by more people being in the workforce.
On the other hand, when you consider a typical taxpayer -- the property tax bill on a median home and income tax rates across the board -- the two taxes are lower in 2018 than 2010.
To evaluate the first part of Walker’s claim, we’ll rely in part on our Walk-O-Meter, which tracks 86 previous campaign promises made by Walker over his previous two campaigns.
When running for a second term in 2014, Walker promised to cut property taxes so that the levy on a typical home in 2018 is lower than it was in 2010.
When we rated that pledge in November 2017, we gave Walker a Promise Kept, based on figures from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
We followed up with the fiscal bureau and were given these figures for the property tax on a median-value home:
Fiscal Bureau director Bob Lang told us that the median-value figure is what his agency provides in evaluating state budget bills, so it’s a typical measure. Median figures are also what Walker’s campaign relied on to back up the propery tax part of Walker’s claim.
Two tax experts from nonpartisan organizations -- Jason Stein, research director at the Wisconsin Policy Forum and Dale Knapp, who was research director at the former Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance -- agreed that the median is a common measure for how property taxes have changed. But they pointed out that tax bills for properties can vary widely around the state, due to differences in property values, tax rates and other factors.
In other words, not everyone’s property tax bill is lower.
It’s worth noting that critics have said that under Walker, funding has been reduced for the state homestead tax credit, which was designed to provide property tax relief to low-income homeowners and renters. The nonprofit Wisconsin Budget Project estimates that as a result of the most recent reduction, done in the 2017-’19 state budget, about 11,400 households will see property tax increases averaging $614 per year.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party pointed to a recent rise in school referendums adopted by voters in school districts around the state, arguing the referendums are being forced because of reductions in state funding.
Here’s a breakdown of our ratings on 88 campaign promises made by Scott Walker during his first two campaigns for governor.
Promise Kept -- 53.5 percent
Promise Broken -- 20.9 percent
Compromise -- 12.8 percent
In the Works -- 7 percent
Stalled -- 5.8 percent
Both Stein and Knapp said changes in income taxes are more difficult to measure for a typical taxpayer because there are more variables -- such as how many exemptions or tax credits a taxpayer qualifies for, whether the taxpayers is single or married, owns a home, has children at home, etc.
But they said one reasonable measure is income tax rates, especially given that’s where Walker has made major changes. Tax rates are what Walker’s campaign cited to back up the second part of Walker’s claim.
We went to the fiscal bureau again and Lang confirmed that the tax rates in each income bracket are lower than they were in 2010.
For people filing as single, married/jointly and married/separately, there were five rates in 2010, starting with the lowest level of taxable income and going up:
In 2018, there are only four:
Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, told us it’s important to note that some low-income parents are paying higher income taxes because of cuts to the earned income tax credit. For families with three or more children who get the maximum credit, for example, a change Walker initiated in 2011 will cost them $579 in 2018, he said.
Walker says: "Property and income taxes will be lower in 2018 than they were in 2010."
Total property and income tax collections are higher in 2018 than they were in 2010, partly because of new properties paying taxes and more workers paying income taxes.
But using two reasonable measures at the individual level, the property tax on a typical home is lower in 2018 and than it was in 2010; and across the board, income tax rates are lower in 2018 than in 2010.
For a statement that is accurate but needs clarification, our rating is Mostly True.