Manufacturing tax credit could have political impact

Political beat

Governor Scott Walker

Could the more than $250 million in annual income tax breaks for manufacturers and agriculture producers, now drawing headline attention, affect Wisconsin politics leading up to the November election?

Governor Scott Walker
Governor Scott Walker

Fiscal experts expect the state will distribute $284 million in the 2017 tax year. Last year, 78 percent of the tax break program went to individuals making more than $1 million.

The tax credit program was enacted in 2011 and called for a six-year phase-in. It was added to the state budget in the final days of deliberation and didn’t attract much attention at the time. Proponents argued it would help job creation.

Actual payouts under the new program substantially exceeded projections.

For their part, Democrats have assailed the tax credit program as “trickle down politics.”

Such a large break for well-to-do citizens ordinarily might trigger sharp, adverse political reactions in an election year. But the gerrymandering of legislative districts seems likely to protect the large Republican legislative majorities that enacted the tax break.

This also is a presidential election year and voter turnout always is higher in those years. Yet at this point, there seems to be little enthusiasm in the general electorate for the expected presidential candidates of the major parties, so turnout is an open question.

The presidential election likely will overshadow any effort by Wisconsin Democrats to call attention to the $284 million tax credit payout.

Gov. Scott Walker has long harbored the idea of being president. The tax credit program for farmers and manufacturers could be attractive to his Republican reputation if he were to seek the GOP nomination in 2020.

Matt Pommer is the “dean” of Capitol correspondents in Madison. His column is published with permission from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, but does not reflect the views or opinions of the WNA or its member newspapers.

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