Tamarine Cornelius
Wisconsin Budget

Few Jobs From Huge Tax Break

State manufacturers get $457 million tax, yet trail nation badly in new jobs.

By , Wisconsin Budget Project - May 5th, 2017 10:28 am


The number of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin has grown more slowly than the national average, despite a major new tax break that nearly wipes out income taxes for manufacturers.

Despite Significant Tax Cut, Wisconsin Lags National Average in Growth in Manufacturing Jobs

Despite Significant Tax Cut, Wisconsin Lags National Average in Growth in Manufacturing Jobs

The number of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin grew by 1.4% between September 2013 and September 2016, less than the national rate of 2.1%. These figures are based on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, the “gold standard” measure of jobs figures. September 2016 is the most recent month for which jobs figures are available from the QCEW; that month’s figures are preliminary. The manufacturing tax break started with tax year 2013 and was phased in over a four-year period.

The slow growth of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin is notable because over that same period Wisconsin gave manufacturers a tax break worth $457 million, through a tax credit that nearly wipes out income tax liability for manufacturers and some other businesses. But lawmakers didn’t require manufacturers to create any jobs to receive the tax break – in fact, even manufacturers that are laying off employees or sending Wisconsin jobs overseas can receive the tax cut.

The tax break for manufacturers largely goes to a small group of extremely wealthy, well-connected claimants. Most of the credit goes toward reducing income taxes for millionaires, with some tax filers with incomes of over $1 million receiving tax cuts of more than $100,000. (For more on the distribution of this tax break, read The Big Giveaway is Getting Bigger: Updated Figures Show Growing Tax Credit is Inefficient, Costly from February 2017.)

There is no way to know for certain what the change in the number of manufacturing jobs would have looked like in the absence of the tax cut. But we do know that Wisconsin lawmakers carved out a special tax break for manufacturers not available to other businesses or families – and that the state hasn’t gotten much back in return.

Wisconsin would do better to take the revenue lost to the tax credit and use the money in ways that would help businesses, communities, and families thrive. Instead of giving a small group of manufacturers a pass on paying taxes, Wisconsin should make investments that help employees develop skills that match employer needs, maintain a solid transportation network, and deliver effective public services like police and fire protection.

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