Wisconsin’s banks do not see why they should have to pay their taxes, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is offended at the mere suggestion.
Banking on a free ride
As a taxpayer and as Wisconsin's former commissioner of banking, I am deeply disturbed to read the latest whining complaints by Wisconsin’s bankers and their apologists over the state's attempts to recover back taxes the banks owe.
There is something quite hypocritical about supposed civic and business leaders publicly crying that the state is forcing them to pay taxes they owe but were permitted to evade under the Thompson and McCallum administrations. One wonders if they are upset because their frequent, large campaign contributions to these administrations have not continued to buy them a tax-free skybox in their beloved tax-avoidance heaven under the current administration.
And what about their recent argument that if they have to stop cheating on their taxes they will cut loans to Wisconsin businesses that create most of the new jobs in our state? If the president of the Community Bankers of Wisconsin was not auditioning for a guest appearance on Comedy Central when he made this threat last week, then he should be hooted down with laughter the next time he speaks in public on any topic--even if it is the weather.
An irony in the Chicken Little wailing of these bankers who thought they had bought a Get Out of Taxes Permanently Card is that they are still not even being asked to pay their fair share of taxes in Wisconsin. They get to negotiate and settle their unpaid tax bills for pennies on the dollar, and they get to keep all the other tax breaks they enjoy thanks to their campaign contributions to the Republican legislative leadership.
But the outraged bankers must have some logic in their latest complaints because they have attracted the support of one of Wisconsin's wealthiest and most influential organizations. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce president Jim Haney recently wrote Governor Doyle to complain about the current audits of the tax-avoiding banks and other WMC members. He said that the state's actions in enforcing the law are forcing businesses to pay penalties and taxes even if they do not owe them.
It is a cruel and bad joke to say that Wisconsin businesses will plead guilty to tax cheating when they are innocent, and Haney's fantasies are as believable as the outcries of those Wisconsin bankers who warn that the sky will fall if they have to pay their taxes just like other folks.
These doomsday proclamations make me wish for the good old days of President Reagan. He at least wore a smile when he publicly told his whoppers; these guys only snarl in their continuing attempts to avoid their legal and civic responsibilities.
June 8, 2004
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Bill Dixon is a Madison attorney and long time Democratic activist and political commentator.