Viewpoints: Charlatans propose 18% increase in sales tax

The headline “Leaders propose increasing sales tax by 1%” in the BizTimes Milwaukee A.M. Headlines edition on Sept. 10, 2019 was quite amusing. The headline would have been more accurate with something like: “Charlatans propose 18% increase in sales tax.”

The article went on to quote the charlatans who claimed they needed to extract more money from taxpayers to pay for old buildings, roads and critical services such as police and firefighters. The charlatans, clearly thinking they can hoodwink Milwaukee County taxpayers once again, also promised to cut property taxes.

The charlatans hate property taxes. Property taxes are too visible. Property owners hate property taxes because they see the real amount at least once a year. Renters aren’t as disturbed because the property tax is passed along in the form of a higher rental rate. At some level, however, renters know they are paying property taxes.

The charlatans love less visible taxes like the sales tax. They love totally hidden taxes like the gasoline tax, cigarette tax, cellphone tax and liquor tax even more. Businesses collect these sales and excise taxes very efficiently. They package up one big check at the end of the month and send it to the charlatans. No gnashing of teeth from the taxpayer. Just one big fat wad of money flowing in constantly and effortlessly.

The report by WISN Channel 12 News notes that Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Detroit have higher sales tax rates than Milwaukee. So, if your neighbor does something really stupid, you should do something just as dumb just to keep up. Wisconsin ranks 16th overall in total tax burden. With the proposed 18% increase in the sales tax, we would be on our way to catching other fiscally mismanaged, neighboring states like Illinois (Number 9) and Minnesota (Number 5), in total tax burden. Eventually, taxpayers will move to a city, county and state offering a better deal.

To paraphrase Milton Friedman, if increasing taxes would solve the fiscal problems of Milwaukee County, there would not be any fiscal problems. The Milwaukee County charlatans have been raising all manor of taxes for the past 185 years.

Dennis Ellmaurer is a management consultant working as chair emeritus with Vistage Worldwide, Inc. He is also a speaker and executive coach. He can be reached at (414) 801-5780 or

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