MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A bipartisan push to end a tax Wisconsin businesses pay on property that has long been targeted for elimination gained momentum Wednesday, even as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers remained silent on whether he will sign or veto the bill.
Republicans proposed eliminating the tax and included $202 million in the state budget proposal to pay for it. A separate bill to eliminate the tax cleared the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and another panel on bipartisan votes Wednesday. The full Legislature is expected to vote on it next week, along with the state budget.
Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach joined with Republicans on the budget committee in voting to eliminate the tax. Democrats who voted against it said they were concerned that funding set aside to replace the lost property tax dollars would be held by the budget committee rather than returned to local governments.
Erpenbach also supported sending the money directly to municipalities, rather than having the committee hold it, but still voted for the measure. He said after the vote that he has long favored getting rid of the tax but that past proposals did not fully fund the elimination.
“I’m glad we’re doing it,” Erpenbach said, while stopping short of calling on Evers to sign the bill.
“I’m not going to tell him what to do one way or the other,” Erpenbach said.
Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel, sponsor of the Senate bill, said lawmakers don’t know whether Evers would support it or not. Republicans introduced the tax repeal as a bill to prevent Evers from using his broad line-item veto power to make changes to it, Stroebel said. The way it is now, Evers would have to sign or veto the tax repeal in its entirety.
The tax was created 170 years ago, and there has been a push to eliminate it for more than 100 years. Numerous exemptions have been added — something opponents point to to bolster their argument that it is unfair and burdensome to administer.
“We have picked winners and losers by eliminating certain categories and taxing others,” said Republican Rep. Don Knodl, the lead sponsor of the Assembly bill.
Bill Smith, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, called eliminating the tax a “major step toward tax fairness.”
A wide range of more than 40 groups have registered in support of the bill, including state and local chambers of commerce, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, the Wisconsin Tavern league, and groups representing builders and contractors.
Opponents include the city of Milwaukee, the AFSCME International Union and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
Milwaukee echoed concerns of Democrats, saying in a statement explaining its opposition that the city was concerned municipalities would not receive money from the state to make up for the lost property tax income, resulting in a shift to higher property taxes on homeowners.
The bill would eliminate the tax starting in 2022.