Child credit, sales tax holiday OK'd by Wisconsin Assembly

Feb. 23, 2018

MADISON Republican lawmakers moved closer to enacting Gov. Scott Walker's plan to give parents a tax credit and create a sales tax holiday, passing the package Thursday through the Assembly and on to the Senate. The legislation's fate in that house is uncertain.

The Assembly passed the tax credit bill and an incentive package for consumer products-maker Kimberly-Clark, while also approving $350 million for a new prison and a host of other measures over a marathon final 12-hour day.

Walker's plan calls for giving all parents a $100 per-child tax credit, funded through the state's budget surplus. It also would repeal sales taxes on items costing less than $100 over the first weekend in August. The legislation would cost the state about $170 million in all.

Democrats blasted it as an election year gimmick the sales tax holiday would fall just days before the August primary but Assembly Republicans have embraced the plan. The chamber passed it 61-35 on Thursday.

"This money is taxpayers' money and it should go back to them," Republican Rep. Shannon Zimmerman said.

Democrats accused Walker and the GOP of trying to bribe voters. They said $100 would make little difference to families and Republicans should spend the money on other needs such as road repairs and public schools.

"We're witnessing a last-ditch effort to buy votes. A hundred dollars is too little, too late," Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent said.

Republicans pushed back hard, insisting that the surplus belongs to the taxpayers and $100 can make a huge difference for parents looking to buy school clothes for their children.

"You give me $100, I'm going to get down on the ground and thank you," Republican Rep. Joe Sanfelippo said.

Assembly Republicans amended the measure to allow retailers to opt out of the sales tax holiday. Speaker Robin Vos said the move is designed to give options to small stores that might struggle to adjust their cash registers during the holiday. But the opt-out also could generate support among senators who have opposed sales tax holidays in the past. Regardless, Vos said the Senate could now take the bill or leave it.

The Assembly wrapped up its two-year session early Friday morning after a 12-hour day, and Republican leaders insisted they would not return even if the Senate makes changes to that or any other bill. Proposals must pass both the Senate and Assembly in identical form to become law.

The Assembly also passed a bill that would make it easier to revoke parole for anyone charged with a felony or violent misdemeanor, approve borrowing $350 million to pay for a new adult prison and spend nearly $4 million more to hire about 54 new prosecutors. Its fate in the Senate is also unknown.

Democratic critics spoke against the revocation changes, saying it would overwhelm the criminal justice system, cost too much and not reduce crime. The change is expected to send hundreds more people to prison every year and increase costs to the state by $57 million a year.

Vos said he wanted to approve borrowing for the new prison now while lawmakers await recommendations of a prison study task force. Given that prisons are already 30 percent over capacity, and the Legislature was passing tough-on-crime bills expected to put even more people behind bars, Vos said it was a foregone conclusion that a new prison would be needed.

Democrats questioned the allocation of the new prosecutors, which are based on a 2014 needs study, saying it's wrong that none of them are slated for Dane or Milwaukee counties, the state's largest.

The Assembly also approved a tax incentive package designed to dissuade Kimberly-Clark from cutting 600 jobs in northeastern Wisconsin. The consumer products giant has been non-committal to the proposal, which Walker put forward mirroring incentives given to Taiwanese company Foxconn Technology Group.

That proposal is opposed by a coalition of conservative advocacy groups that say it's bad economics and sets a bad precedent for economic development. Democrats called it a stunt.

Walker tax cut, Lincoln Hills closure plan in jeopardy in Senate

MADISON, Wis.  Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald threw cold water on a couple of Gov. Scott Walker's top priorities Friday, saying he was cut out of negotiations between the governor and Assembly on a tax cut deal and juvenile justice overhaul.

Fitzgerald told The Associated Press that both proposals, which passed the Assembly this week, will have serious problems getting through the Senate with no changes. The Assembly has adjourned for the year and Speaker Robin Vos reiterated to the AP on Friday that the chamber has no intention of coming back.

"If the Senate doesn't want to pass the tax cut, they can kill it and take the blame," Vos said.

The Assembly passed dozens of bills this week before quitting early Friday morning. That means anything that still needs Senate approval has to pass as is to become law.

Several major pieces of Walker's agenda that he hopes to run for re-election on this year got through the Assembly this week. That includes a $100 per-child tax credit and sales tax holiday, a plan to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison and overhaul the juvenile justice system, $350 million for a new adult prison, $4 million for more prosecutors and an incentive package to persuade Kimberly-Clark not to shed 600 jobs in northeastern Wisconsin.

Fitzgerald didn't commit to any of those passing the Senate unchanged and said he "absolutely" felt like he was cut out of negotiations between Vos and Walker.

"They continue to cut deals between the governor and Assembly and I don't know why they think that will result in bills becoming law," he said.

Tensions among Vos, Fitzgerald and Walker date back to last year's protracted budget negotiations that resulted in the spending plan passing two months late.

Vos said he's worked with individual senators including Sen. Van Wanggaard on the Lincoln Hills plan who could then work with Fitzgerald to get bills passed. He said there was no conscious decision to leave Fitzgerald out of the process.

"I have learned negotiating with the Senate sometimes is like getting Jell-O to mold," Vos said.

The Lincoln Hills bill was written by a bipartisan group of lawmakers who met with Walker to talk about it earlier this week. Walker told reporters he would sign the bill in the version it passed the Assembly.

Under the bill, Lincoln Hills would close by 2021, the most serious juvenile offenders would be housed in state-run prisons and counties would be in charge of the rest. It includes $80 million to pay for construction of new facilities as needed.

"I have a ton of questions," Fitzgerald said of that plan. "We weren't involved in the process at all. I wasn't invited to any meetings. I have a ton of concerns."

He said the new system could be "completely unraveled" by a lawsuit.

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who understands what they're doing," Fitzgerald said. "It deserves a lot more scrutiny than it's received."

Vos said he still thinks there's time for the Senate to review and accept what the Assembly passed with no changes. The Senate plans to return for a final day in session on March 20.

But Fitzgerald said between now and then Senate committees will be meeting and he assumes they will be working on changes to the tax cut proposal, Lincoln Hills plan and other bills approved by the Assembly.

"I can't believe they wouldn't come back and take some of the changes from the Senate," he said.


Associated Press