Harley Davidson has been the subject of state resolutions, state pride, and of course, state politicking. The most recent example comes courtesy of the Scott Walker and Mark Neumann campaigns, who blame state tax policy for the motorcycle manufacturer's possible plan to move operations out of Wisconsin.
Neumann: "The business climate in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is in dire need of an emergency overhaul. As Governor my highest priority will be to ensure that Wisconsin balances its budget, controls spending and cuts taxes with a goal of generating jobs at a record pace and keeping our largest employers right here."
Walker: "This is why I fight so hard against bad tax policies that cost us jobs. ??Jim Doyle and Tom Barrett want to give tax breaks to Spanish manufacturers at the same time their failed policies are driving jobs and employers out of the state."
Liberals and Democrats have shot back, saying that Harley never mentioned anything about taxes in its announcement. Says the Institute for Wisconsin's Future, a liberal tax policy group:
The facts are that Harley's state income tax plummeted from nearly $23 million in 2005 to under $1 million in 2008, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. In 2005, it paid 1.5% of pre-tax profits in Wisconsin income tax. By 2008, that had dropped below 0.1%.
That's because of other changes in Wisconsin tax law, designed specifically to help major manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson. Even with an increase from combined reporting, the net effect of recent changes in state tax policy has yielded large state tax savings for Harley-Davidson.
It seems that worker costs are bothering Harley more than taxes. Is the GOP rhetoric disingenuous? Of course. So was Tom Barrett's response. However, the suggestion that cutting taxes further for Harley would keep the company in the state isn't necessarily absurd either. If worker costs are high, the state could theoretically make up the company's losses by cutting its taxes even more.
The problem is a) giving companies tax favors every time one threatens to leave the state establishes a system of blackmail that already works far too well at state and federal levels (see Mercury Marine and you know, the bailout). In addition, Harley already pays so little in taxes that the state has little else to give them without entirely eliminating their income tax obligations. I guess we could do that for corporations. As long as we're prepared to eliminate public education.
Why are Republicans talking about taxes then? The obvious boogeyman is the union. Well, I would guess that beating up on "career politicians" and "tax-hikers" is easier than beating up on unions. The Big Labor rally-cry works well at Tea Parties but less well in the general electorate, or even the GOP primary electorate.