August 24, 2017

[Madison, Wis…] In its first budget meeting in more than two months, the Joint Committee on Finance hit the ground running Thursday as it voted along party lines to eliminate the Forestry Mill Tax, the last remaining state portion of the property tax.

“Here in Wisconsin we are not only reducing taxes, we’re eliminating taxes altogether,” said Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). “You want to talk about history? We’re making history right here.”

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) talked about the history of the tax, arguing that it has been crucial to stewardship of the state’s forests. Shankland and other Democrats suggested that forest fires could become more of a problem for the state without an earmarked tax just to protect forests, quipping, “I guess when there’s a massive forest fire, you guys want to do a 13:10 [finance meeting] and get that [funding] approved?”

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), an author of the motion to eliminate the tax, slammed the claim that the state would no longer fight forest fires.

“To the point on fire – the state providing fire protection for forest fires is statutory. That is not going to go away. We are going to continue to make that a number one priority.”

Democrats also questioned whether there could be a “better way” to spend the $181 million that the Forestry Mill Tax generates. Both Kooyenga and finance co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) took issue with that mindset, calling it “government-centered.”

“The thing you’re missing in your argument, is this money, it’s not ours,” Nygren said. “It’s not ours. The people that sent us here, the people that we represent, they are the ones that should be asking that question.”

Eliminating the tax was part of Gov. Scott Walker’s original budget proposal submitted to the Legislature earlier this year. In a statement released shortly after the committee’s vote, Walker said, “We are eliminating an entire tax. Once passed in the budget and signed into law, there will be no state property tax collected for the first time since 1931. I applaud the members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for supporting tax reform and relief!” the statement read.

JFC will meet again on Monday to vote on funding for K-12 education.

This article appears courtesy of the MacIver Institute.
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