Saturday, July 19, 2008

Taxing the poor

The Tomah Journal is with me on abolishing the lottery.

The Wisconsin Lottery invites us to “celebrate 20 years of fun with us!” But is the lottery’s 20th anniversary really a cause to celebrate? Or should it trigger scrutiny of a government program that, broadly speaking, transfers wealth from the poor to the more affluent?

Wisconsin’s lottery is a strange beast. It doesn’t raise general revenue or create a dedicated funding source for a particular government program. Instead, the Wisconsin Lottery is raw economic redistribution -- profits are put directly into the pockets of residential homeowners through a property tax credit. The credit, which varies from year to year depending on ticket sales, was $87 in 2006 and $74 in 2007. The upward income redistribution is awkward to justify -- people who own property tend to be more affluent than those who don’t -- but it’s how our lottery works.