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Dems propose ‘poison pill’ personal property tax repeal bill

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — it’s funny how political vulnerability can change a politician’s politics.

Such is the case with Wisconsin’s personal property tax repeal effort and the Democrats who couldn’t quite quit the tax’s cash flow. But the conservatives who have long championed ditching Wisconsin’s antiquated and punishing tax on businesses warn not to be fooled by the Dems’ seeming change of heart.

Last week, Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Democrats said they were bringing back legislation that the governor vetoed earlier this year. The original Republican plan would have done away with the tax on certain property owned by businesses. Evers did keep language in the state’s biennial budget that allots $200 million to make up for the lost tax revenue.

The bill now endorsed by the Democrat would kill the personal property and divvy up the $200 million to local governments no longer able to count on the stream of revenue.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), one of the authors of the Republican-backed bill, says the Democrats’ legislation includes “poison pill provisions to appease the left and serve as political cover for those not paying attention.”

Democrats in politically vulnerable districts heard an earful from small businesses owners after Evers’ veto in July. Stroebel asserts the nervous lawmakers pressured the governor to stand by a PPT repeal bill that would give them a win in next year’s election.

Stroebel said proof that the Dems’ proposal is political posturing is in their additions. Their bill singles out specific industries, such as manufactured homes and outdoor advertisers, that would be adversely affected, the senator said. Instead of a clean sweep of tax relief, as in the Republican bill, the new bill sticks it to some industries.

Democrats also can’t tolerate the idea of reducing government.

“A permanent annual increase in local government aids was included because, to a (D)emocrat, a tax cut must include growing government, Stroebel said, noting the liberals’ bill also adds an unrelated special interest property tax exemption for air carriers.

Wisconsin’s personal property tax has been around since before statehood and deemed unfair by many for just as long. Businesses are required to pay the usual sales tax on an item at purchase and then pay personal property tax on it thereafter.

The original bill included nearly all of the changes requested by the state Department of Revenue from its memo and requested changes lawmakers received just hours before an Assembly vote this past summer, Stroebel said. Per usual, Evers and his liberal allies failed to contact Republican legislative authors and stakeholders from the Coalition to Repeal ahead of last week’s bill draft release.

“For the first time since statehood, as a culmination of a decade of work, Republicans passed a repeal of the personal property tax… Governor Evers vetoed it,” Stroebel said. “Now (the Dems’ bill) is being proposed as a political shield to obscure this history.”

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