State should refund tax surplus to the middle class

My column for the Washington County Daily News is in print and online. Here’s a sample:

The state of Wisconsin has a problem. Thanks to the manufacturing renaissance, economic boom, and record employment fostered by the Republican policies of the previous eight years, tax revenue has been cascading into Madison at record levels. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, this will leave an estimated budget surplus of over $600 million in state government coffers at the end of the current fiscal year.

In a perfect world, the government would do one, or both, of two things with a budget surplus. They would either give the money back to the taxpayers who paid it or pay down some of the state’s outstanding debt. What they should never do is use surplus money as an excuse to spend more.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider what surplus tax revenue really is. Every tax dollar that is taken from a citizen by the government is a dollar that cannot be used by that citizen for anything else. It cannot be used to pay for the citizen’s food, child care, health care, education, clothing, or housing. It also cannot be used to start a business, support a charity, or saved for retirement. Politicians should treat each tax dollar as sacred because every dollar represents an opportunity seized from a citizen with the coercive power of government.

The Republicans in the Legislature are on the right track with their handling of the surplus. The Republicans are working to pass a middle-class tax cut that would simply give the tax surplus back to the taxpayers by increasing the standard deduction for the income tax for families who earn up to $155,000 and individuals who earn up to $127,000.