GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Property tax cut law to be signed Sunday
Governor Scott Walker will sign Wisconsin's 100-million-dollar property tax cut on Sunday, so homeowners will get it on their bills in December. The Assembly gave final legislative approval to the measure yesterday on an 82-12 vote. Twenty-five Democrats joined all Republicans in voting yes. Most of the dissenters were from the Madison and Milwaukee areas. The Republican Walker proposed the tax cut eight days ago. He'll sign it in Burlington -- the home district of G-O-P Speaker Robin Vos, who helped push it through. Democrats again accused Republicans of making a political mountain out of a molehill. The average homeowner will get 13-dollars off this year's property tax bill, and 20-dollars off next year. Trempealeau Democrat Chris Danou said it averages a quarter-a-week -- which he says would not buy a gumball. Minority leader Peter Barca offered an amendment with a larger tax cut plus more money for Medicaid, the Homestead tax credit, and the state's rainy day fund. That was voted down. Democrats again slammed the timing of the tax cut proposal, made just three days after Democrat Mary Burke announced her bid for governor next year. The Dems said it's all designed to help Walker win. Vos noted that the loudest critics ended up voting for the tax plan, knowing that if they didn't, their jobs might be at risk at election time. Vos and other Republicans said the tax cut would help the economy. It will also raise the deficit in the next state budget by 33-percent, but Vos says that doesn't reflect a growing economy and the higher tax revenues it would generate.
Thousands of homeowners will get nothing -- or close to it -- under the 100-million-dollar property tax relief plan passed this week by the state Legislature. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says property owners in 82 school districts will be short-changed. That's because the tax relief is being funneled through the state's school aid formula, which gives more money to the poorest districts than the richest ones. Republicans could have given everybody an equal amount of tax relief by using the so-called "first dollar formula" which exempts part of a homeowner's tax liability. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the G-O-P decided to give more relief to the state's poorest areas. He acknowledged problems with the school aid formula, and vowed to address them as early as the next budget. Republican Governor Scott Walker will sign the tax relief measure on Sunday in Burlington, after the Assembly gave final legislative approval yesterday. Walker proposed the tax relief a week ago, after the state had a higher-than-expected surplus in its last budget. Democrats said the measure was timed to help Walker's re-election bid next year, and the amount of the tax relief is only a-buck-or-two per week for the average homeowner. Still, the vast majority of Democrats voted in favor of it. Only 17 of the 54 Democrats in both houses actually voted no.
Local governments would lose much of their authority to regulate frac-sand mines, under a bill proposed by a state Senate Republican. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst says mining companies are being hampered by a patch-work of restrictive local ordinances -- and it would be easier for the mining firms to deal with uniform rules administered by Madison. Communities could still use their zoning authority to regulate silica-sand operations. They would not be able to use their police powers to impose things like noise limits, or hours of operation. Blasting activities would remain under state rules -- much to the chagrin of Ashland County officials, who are considering an ordinance to limit exploratory blasting at the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine. They fear that blasting would loosen asbestos on the property. The Sierra Club blasted Tiffany's proposal, calling it an assault on local control which threatens natural resources. The Wisconsin Towns Association says the bill would affect local road usage agreements for frac-sand trucks, which seek to minimize highway damage. Senate Republican Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls says any state bill would have to address local road agreements. Tiffany is looking for co-sponsors for his legislation, and he's giving them until Monday to get on board.
Wisconsin's chief justice would be more likely to have the same philosophy as the majority of the Supreme Court, under a constitutional amendment from a Senate Republican. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst wants the chief justice to be chosen every two years by a majority of the court's seven members -- and that person could serve no longer than six years in a row. Right now, the member with the most seniority is the chief justice, and there's no limit on that term. Tiffany is asking his co-sponsors to sign onto his amendment, which would have to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions and then by the voters in a statewide referendum. Current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has held the court's leadership post since 1996. She's one of two liberals on the seven-member court, which has a four-member conservative majority and a swing member. The court has had a number of sharp public disagreements in recent years, but things appear to have quieted down over the past year or so.
Tornado victims in northeast Wisconsin have until Monday to apply for disaster loans from the U-S Small Business Administration. Loans of up to 200-thousand dollars are available for qualified residents to fix or replace buildings. Up to 40-thousand dollars in loans are available for losses of personal property. A half-dozen tornadoes and heavy thunderstorms hit northeast Wisconsin August sixth-and-seventh. Five of the twisters landed in Outagamie County, including one in the city of Appleton. The disaster relief is open to folks in Outagamie, Brown, Shawano, Waupaca, Winnebago, and Calumet counties. More information is available online at SBA-Dot-Gov-slash-disaster.
Green Bay's Oneida Indian tribe has come out in favor of the proposed Menominee off-reservation casino-and-resort in Kenosha. That leaves the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk as the only tribes opposed to the project, in the final days before Governor Scott Walker plans to announce whether he'll approve it. His decision is expected on Tuesday. Delgado tells W-L-U-K T-V that his tribe decided to support the Kenosha casino, after seeing where gambling revenues and players come from. Earlier this week, Menominee chairman Craig Corn said his tribe could offset gaming revenues the other tribes might lose because of the Kenosha casino's presence. Delgado said the Oneida would have a role in banking and marketing services -- but Corn emphasized it's not a revenue-sharing arrangement. Walker says he would only approve the Kenosha casino if the community and all other state tribes endorse it -- and if it does not result in an overall increase in state gambling. The Potawatomi says the Menominee project still fails to meet Walker's criteria. Corn said he's confident the governor would see it in a different light quote, "after he reviews all the facts."
More of Wisconsin's historic buildings would be preserved under a doubling of the state's tax credit for those projects. The Assembly passed the measure 88-to-4 yesterday, with four Republicans voting no -- Steve Nass, Adam Neylon, Chris Kapenga, and Rob Hutton. Developers would get tax credits of 20-percent of their qualifying expenses to preserve historic buildings that date back to 1936 or before. That doubles the current rate for the second time this year. The state credit was just five-percent before it was doubled in the new state budget in July. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the tax break will cost eight-point-six million dollars over the next two years, based on the current usage of the credit. Lawmakers say the cost will most likely be higher, because it would be more lucrative for developers to do historic projects. Racine, Green Bay, and Kenosha are among the places that have projects pending. There were concerns that the tax break might get out of control. The Joint Finance Committee would examine the situation by reviewing the tax credit in 2015.