My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
One of the assets of our grand republic that has allowed it to perpetuate and thrive is the fact that we are also a federation of states. Our nation was designed to have a relatively small national government with limited powers while states retain broader and deeper powers to regulate our lives. This allows each state to experiment with different policies and for other states to observe and learn from the results of those policies.
Sometimes, those experiments go very well and other states can copy them to benefit their own citizens. This was the case when concealed carry began to sweep the nation after Florida allowed it in the 1987 and saw nothing but positive results. Since then, every state in the nation has come to allow some form of concealed carry and states continue to get closer to a full recognition of the right to keep and bear arms in the form of what has come to be called Constitutional Carry.
Sometimes, however, states try policies that prove instructive to warn other states to not attempt those policies. Minnesota has just provided one of those examples that Wisconsin, in particular, should be watching closely.
Minnesota has long been a state susceptible to fits of political absurdity. It is, after all, a state that has elected such luminaries as Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken and former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura to high office. In 2010 Minnesotans elected the ultra-leftist Democratic-FarmerLabor (DFL) Party member Mark Dayton with a 43.6 percent of the vote. The Republican and Independent candidates split the remaining 56.4 percent of the vote.
Not to be deterred by his mere plurality of support, Gov. Dayton and his DFL majorities in the state legislature launched an ambitious agenda including a massive tax increase on the “1 percent” to fill a budget deficit created by overspending.
Specifically, they passed a $2.1 billion tax increase in 2013 by increasing the income tax rate for people earning over $150,000 ($250,000 for people filing jointly) from 7.85 percent to 9.85 percent. They also passed a slew of other tax increases on the middle and lower taxes, but the crown jewel of their plan was to “tax the rich” to fund their spending.
The results were predictable. Minnesota saw an immediate increase in tax revenue. This makes sense. When a tax increase like this is passed, most people have little choice but to pay it. The prospect of uprooting their families, changing schools, getting a new job and moving out of state to avoid the tax is not an option immediately doable.
But over time, all fixed costs become variable costs. When those high earners begin seeking out their next career move, one of the factors they will consider is the amount of their paycheck they have to send to the government that they would be able to keep by simply moving to a different state. That is exactly what is happening in Minnesota.
The results of the tax increase are becoming known. The IRS keeps track of when people move to different states by the flagging when people list a new resident on their tax returns. This data gives us a vivid picture of taxpayer movement because it is actual data and not just a statistical projection.
As detailed in a report by the Center of the American Experiment, the most recent IRS data available is for the year immediately after Minnesota’s tax increase and it shows a grim picture. Between 2013 and 2014, Minnesota reported its largest net loss of income in its history with $944 million of adjusted gross income leaving the state. Lest one think this is the natural flow of retirees moving to warmer climes, 63 percent of the state’s net loss of tax filers were younger than 65.
Most of the former Minnesotans are predictable fleeing to states with better tax climates like Colorado, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Arizona and Washington. In fact, five of the 10 states to which Minnesotans flee do not have an income tax at all. It is notable that one of the places that is not receiving an outflow of high-earning Minnesotans is Wisconsin. That is because despite a few years of progress, Wisconsin remains a state with one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. Even after Minnesota’s tax increases, Wisconsin still ranks four notches worse than Minnesota on Forbes’ ranking of overall tax burdens.
The data shows what we all know. The tax burden matters. In the short run, most people do not have a choice but to pay what the government tells them to pay. But over time, choices expand and people will factor the tax burden into their decisions about their lives. Minnesota’s experiment with higher taxes is showing a way that Wisconsin should not follow. In fact, they are showing that Wisconsin should do the exact opposite and push harder to have a tax burden that actually attracts high-earners to our state.