Wisconsin Republicans rolled out a slate of agriculture-related bills this week in response to Gov. Tony Evers’s call for a special session.
The bills provide tax credits for farmers as well as marshal state resources, like the University of Wisconsin, to provide support for the state’s agriculture industry.
The package makes changes and additions to the bills Evers laid out in his call for the session. Republican legislators say the bills from the Democratic governor miss the mark.
“We’ve built on some of his proposals, but some of his proposals do take us in the wrong direction,” Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said during the rollout of the Republican plan. “Talking to farmers … they need actual help, they don’t need more government bureaucrats.”
One of the package’s bills would create a partial tax credit for buildings and other improvements farmers make to their land. The bill’s co-author Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, said this investment in farmers will return money back to the economy.
“A lot of people don't realize that farmers pay full assessed value on the buildings that they use in agriculture,” Tranel said. “Over the last 10 years, farmers have paid over a billion dollars in property taxes on these ag buildings, and what we wanted to do was take a portion of those dollars, a small portion, and get them back to them and recognize the value that those farmers are providing to our economy.”
.@RepTranel testified about one of the bills from the Republican package at a committee meeting today, talking about the importance of getting money back to farmers. The bills received bipartisan support from the committee and will head to the full Assembly. pic.twitter.com/RwnDRIFMtr
— PBS Wisconsin (@PBSWI) February 11, 2020
The Republican package received bipartisan support during the bills’ public hearing. Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo, said it was easy for him to get behind a bill to allow self-employed farmers to deduct health insurance costs from their taxes.
“This is, I think, a really progressive tax bill,” Considine said. “That the rest of that is going to go to the working poor and those who are not doing as well in our society--it is very proactive of us to be doing that, which is why I can support this. I think it's a good idea.”
The only no vote on the package came from Democratic Rep. Debra Kolste of Janesville. On a bill requiring the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study whether to create a certificate program in agriculture, Kolste said she did not know the purpose of the bill.
“I think the university already does this,” Kolste said. “My concern is there isn't any an estimate in it--just say: do a study on your expense.”
“The reason I'm going to support it,” Tranel said, “is just because I think the university does great work will continue to do great work, and if they say that it's necessary, and they can do more, then I think it's a worthwhile investment.”
Agriculture groups lauded the package, saying bills like Tranel’s tax credit help farmers pay for necessities.
“These are dollars that will recycle into Wisconsin’s economy through vendors and employees,” the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation wrote in testimony. “Agriculture supports more than the farmer--it is the lifeline to dozens of satellite industries.”
Though the bill cleared the Assembly agriculture committee, some of the bills dealing with tax policy must pass through other committees before heading to the Assembly floor, and they are not on the calendar when the Assembly convenes next week.