Wisconsin Assembly OKs half-billion dollar tax cut

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

The Wisconsin Assembly overwhelmingly approved a half-billion dollar tax cut Tuesday for businesses that received federal pandemic relief loans to keep employees on the payroll, a move that stands to benefit at least a handful of legislators whose businesses accepted the money.

The bill would make loans administered through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program tax deductible under Wisconsin’s tax code. The loans are already tax deductible under federal law but not under the state code. Legislative fiscal analysts estimate the deductions will result in the loss of $540 million in state revenue by the middle of 2023.

Democrats spent nearly three hours complaining about the bill, arguing it was rushed, the tax cuts will translate to lost state revenue and large-scale businesses that got bigger loans will reap more benefits than local small businesses.

"There are better ways we could be using this money to help businesses in a lot of our districts," said Rep. Mark Spreitzer.

Republicans countered that lawmakers should help businesses any way they can as the pandemic drags on. "These businesses hung on," said Rep. John Jagler. "They should not be punished for it. Let's make them winners today and move on with it."

The Assembly ultimately voted 87-3 to pass the bill on to the Senate. That chamber was expected to pass bill later Tuesday and sene it on to Gov. Tony Evers, who can sign it into law or veto it. So far the governor has been noncommittal about whether he supports the measure.

The bill would benefit at nearly a dozen lawmakers whose businesses accepted PPP loans, according to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel. The Republican recipients include Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Reps. Rob Brooks, Cindi Duchow, Cody Horlacher and Gary Tauchen; and Sen. Joan Ballweg. Democrats include Sen. Kelda Roys and Reps. Gary Hebl and Francesca Hong.

Hong recused herself from the vote. Hebl did not attend the session for what aide Traci Bussan said were personal reasons. She didn't elaborate. All five of the Republican representatives voted for the measure.

The Senate passed a set of Republican-authored virus-related bills before debate began on the loan deductions in that chamber, including measures that would prohibit health officials from mandating vaccinations; prohibit closing churches during the pandemic; prohibit prioritizing prisoners for vaccinations; and force Evers to submit a plan to the Legislature for state workers to return to in-person work.

Democrats railed against the prohibition on prioritizing prisoners, arguing the ban would amount to cruel and unusual punishment The bill's author, Sen. Van Wanggaard, a former police officer, countered that the bill treats prisoners exactly as they'd be treated on the outside and many have already been infected anyway.

Democrats also attacked the return-to-work plan requirement. They said working from home may be saving the state money. The bill's author, Sen. Duey Stroebel argued that the plan is a first step toward determining how the state will function post-pandemic.

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All the bills passed on voice votes except the return-to-work measure. That passed on a 20-12 party-line vote. All the virus measures now go to the Assembly. They appear doomed, however; if the proposals clear that chamber Evers will almost certainly veto them.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state continued a decline. According to the latest data from the state Department of Health Services, the seven-day average of positive tests stood at 3.1% on Monday, the lowest percentage since June.

Wisconsin health officials reported vaccine providers had administered about 996,600 doses as of Tuesday. The state ranked seventh in the county Tuesday in the percentage of its population that has received at least one dose at 12.7%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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