Oak Creek — Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Department of Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler came to Milwaukee Area Technical College's South Campus on Tuesday as part of their statewide series of roundtable discussions on tax issues.
The news release announcing the event said the tour was "held at the request of Gov. Scott Walker," and both emphasized tax cuts during Walker's first three years in their remarks.
"This governor's goal is to drive down the overall tax burden," Kleefisch said in her opening remarks. "We need to provide the stability and certainty job creators and families need."
Later she assured one questioner that "with Scott Walker as CEO, you've got a guy looking to protect you every day" from higher taxes.
Chandler said there has been nearly $1.5 billion in state tax reductions under Walker, and an additional $500 billion directed to reduce local property taxes. While many of the 15 people attending the event said the state income tax is too complex, Chandler said state income taxes have been simplified as well as reduced in all brackets, while property taxes have gone down each year.
"Job creation is the top goal for the Walker administration," Chandler said. "Tax reform is a key element."
He said income and property taxes were the first to be cut because Wisconsin ranks 10th nationally in property taxes and 12th in income taxes, compared to 35th in sales tax burden.
Chandler said Wisconsin has long offered businesses a skilled labor force, solid infrastructure and a high quality of life, but "we haven't always stood up so well on taxes." But Chandler said that when a tax credit for manufacturers takes full effect in 2016, "we'll be able to say we're one of the best states to do business in for manufacturers."
Kleefisch said afterward that corporate income taxes have not been reduced. Instead she said cuts in personal income tax have helped small business owners who pay their taxes as individuals. She described the beneficiaries as "little guys, mom and pop businesses or small machine shops" the state hopes to see grow.
Transportation was an area mentioned as a concern. John Ackeret, a board member of the South Suburban Chamber of Commerce, said that transportation in outlying suburbs is "very bad."
Without a car, Ackeret asked, "how does someone get from Franklin to the city of Milwaukee? How does an elderly person get from Franklin to a shopping mall? A lot of people can't afford a car."
West Allis Mayor Dan Devine said that when his city has shown locations to prospective employers, "one of the first questions they asked was where the buses run."
Shannon Jefferson, a New Berlin resident who is a member of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, said her son, a Milwaukee resident, was unable to stay at a job in Sussex after his car broke down, and is now unemployed.
"Not all the jobs are located in Milwaukee," Jefferson said. "You won't be able to employ all the people in Milwaukee without looking at transportation."
Kleefisch responded that "part of the problem is that Milwaukee Public Schools decided to stop teaching driver's education," so fewer city residents have obtained driver's licenses. She also voiced interest in Uber, a ride-sharing app found in several major cities, but not yet in Milwaukee, as one solution for transit needs.
"It's a great opportunity for a community-based, private-sector solution," the lieutenant governor said.
Steve Kraeger, a Milwaukee businessman, praised Walker's performance as governor, and said he supports him for president in two years. But he criticized increases in landfill tipping fees that preceded Walker.
"While you've got Republicans (controlling) the Legislature, and Cathy Stepp, who's great as (Department of Natural Resources) secretary, you've got to work with her to get expansion" of landfills, Kraeger urged.
The local government officials present raised their concerns. Devine pointed out West Allis has reduced its workforce from 700 to 500 employees in the past 25 years, but West Allis administrative officer Paul Ziehler said municipalities, unlike K-12 school districts and technical colleges, have received no increases in state aids for several years.
"Almost monthly, we're seeing bills in the Legislature to exempt some category from property taxes," Ziehler said, warning that "narrowing the tax base increases the burden on remaining taxpayers."
Greenfield School Board member Rick Moze said, "I'm appalled at the hits Gov. Walker took at school districts," and criticized the governor's move to re-examine Common Core academic standards adopted in 2010.
"Scott Walker is telling us he knows more than the professionals who put these Common Core standards together," Moze complained.
Wauwatosa resident Timothy Murray offered a comment many residents statewide could agree with.
"Whenever it seems property taxes are going down, we'll see new fees," Murray said. "It's great property taxes are going down, but it still comes out of my pocket."
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