We The People/Wisconsin: Economy -- Biz owner backs tax tweaks, sees room for government savings
By Kay Nolan
As a small business owner who designs custom software for restaurants and stores, Bret Gundlach and his staff do a lot of driving.
Yet he would be willing to see toll roads introduced in Wisconsin as a way to offset taxes, even though he knows it would increase his transportation costs.
"I'd definitely be paying more in that regard, but I look at other programs that I'm not necessarily in favor of or a big user of and wonder why I have to pay so much for those things," said Gundlach. "There are things I pay taxes for that I'll never use, but as a business owner and as a salesman, really, I look at my usage of roads and it's way, way beyond what most people use and so maybe I should pay more in that respect. I think that this term 'fairness' that everyone throws around -- maybe that's more fair."
Gundlach, 44, of Madison, applies the same philosophical approach to sales taxes: Pay for what you consume and avoid paying taxes on goods and services you do not.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the newest installment of WisBusiness.com's part of the We the People/Wisconsin 2012 economy project. Members of the statewide media coalition will follow Gundlach and Wisconsin families throughout the year telling their stories and their views on the state and national economy.
The project involves Wisconsin media outlets based in Appleton, Chippewa Falls, Green Bay, La Crosse and Madison.
Now in its 20th year, We the People/Wisconsin provides a unique voice for citizens all across Wisconsin. WTP’s mission is to broaden residents’ participation in public life through citizen-based reporting, town meetings, candidate and issue forums. Since it began in 1992, WTP has sponsored more than 100 live televised forums, candidate debates, statewide conferences and town hall meetings.
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3/3/12: Intro: Meet Bret Gundlach
For Gundlach, it's a matter of having some control over how much he pays in taxes.
He notes that taxpayers can control how much they spend on goods and services and subsequently, how much they are spending on sales tax.
"That's something you can get your head around," he says. "You pay based upon what you consume. But property taxes are based on some mill rate that somebody decided on and you have no control over that."
But Gundlach adds an important caveat: In his opinion, if lawmakers decide to increase sales taxes or create new usage fees, such as toll roads, they should reduce other taxes, such as income and property taxes.
"I don't believe that the government needs more money," said Gundlach. "I think the government needs to be smarter with what they do with their money."
Asked whether all groups of people are currently taxed fairly, Gundlach isn't sure. He doesn't like the idea of "putting the hammer down" on people who have worked hard and achieved wealth, "lest that becomes a disincentive to do that."
But he doesn't think the current system is fair. either.
"I can see the argument that at the top end, where you have the very rich and they're paying a small percentage because their income is coming in as capital gains -- it's not a W-2 income, -- I'm not sure that's fair," said Gundlach. "But on the other end, there's people who are paying no taxes or maybe even getting a credit -- they're gaining money at the end of the year. I don't think that's fair, either. So no, I don't think it's working very well right now."
"Maybe a flat tax is the way to go, or something closer to that," he said. "Herman Cain might not have had all the right ideas, but he had the 9-9-9 thing, where everybody pays 9 percent of their income and there aren't any deductions and there aren't any loopholes. You know, if you're making $20,000 a year, you'd pay $1,800, and if you're making $20 million, you're going to pay $1.8 million, and it's just that simple," he said. "The numbers have been crunched and I think it makes a lot of sense, but you've got people at both ends that are screaming about it."
Gundlach doesn't believe that taxes can be cut without affecting services.
But as a fiscal conservative, Gundlach would rather reduce services than see taxes continue to rise. He's not sure which services should be trimmed, however.
"I'd have to think about that," he admitted.
But he does think that school districts and communities should take a look at consolidating, in order to save on administrative costs.
And he'd like to see non-profit entities contribute to taxes instead of remaining tax-exempt.
"It's got to be stricter than it is right now," he said. "Even the charitable non-profits, you've got people working for those organizations who are making an awful lot of money. Hospitals are a perfect example," he said. "They are making a lot of money and obviously, the people working inside them are making a lot of money, so why shouldn't they have to pay taxes?"