Friday, March 23, 2007

Why are people moving to Wisconsin?

If Wisconsin is such a “tax hell” why are so many people moving to St Croix and Kenosha Counties?

Ever since Kimberly Clarke's CEO threatened to move its headquarters out of state in 1984 Wisconsin has been labeled a “tax hell.”

Political business organizations, like the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), have focused obsessively on reducing Wisconsin’s taxes and “improving the business climate.” Despite the overwhleming evidence that the biggest obstacle to business expansion is the shortage of skilled employees that will intensify as the baby boom generation retires, cutting business taxes has remained at the very top of the WMC agenda.

This relentless campaign has morphed into the popular belief that the state's tax rates are causing people and businesses to flee.

It’s past time for a reality check. Fortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau’s report on population trends that was released March 22nd does exactly that.

Wisconsin’s fastest growing county is St Croix which grew by 26.7% between 2000 and 2006, more than twice as fast as any other county in the state. Polk and Kenosha counties also made the list of Wisconsin’s fast growing counties.

Do tax rates explain this growth? Of course not!

These border counties are experiencing rapid growth because people are moving from Minnesota and Illinois in pursuit of lower housing costs, quality schools, and a better quality of life. At the same time, Milwaukee County, where property tax rates have been frozen, continues to lose residents- 25,067 since 2000. It ranked 69th out of Wisconsin's 72 counties in percent of population lost.

People are leaving because there aren’t enough jobs, poverty is endemic, our parks and schools are deteriorating, the museum’s on the verge of bankruptcy and the urban infrastructure is in decline.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes understood that “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” But perhaps that’s why Kimberly Clarke fled civilized Wisconsin long ago for, well, Texas.

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