Legislative Update: Senate Confirms Several Agency Heads; Democrats Propose Personal Property Tax Repeal

Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature met on September 28 to vote on a variety of matters. We covered the Assembly’s agenda here and the Senate’s agenda here. The Senate voted to confirm nearly 40 of Governor Tony Evers’ (D) appointments to various state agencies, boards, and commissions, including six agency heads:

  • Joaquin Altoro, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (confirmed 30-0)
  • Daniel Carlton, Administrator of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission (confirmed 31-0)
  • Dawn Crim, Secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services (confirmed 29-2)
  • Melissa Hughes, Chief Executive Officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (confirmed 31-0)
  • Randy Romanski, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (confirmed 31-0)
  • Craig Thompson, Secretary of the Department of Transportation (confirmed 27-4)

Both houses also approved along party lines Senate Joint Resolution 63, which describes principles and standards that Republican legislative leaders plan to use when drawing new political maps for the state based on the national census conducted last year. Notably, the resolution asserts that new legislative districts should “retain as much as possible the core of existing districts, thus maintaining existing communities of interest, and promoting the equal opportunity to vote by minimizing disenfranchisement due to staggered Senate terms.”

Democratic Legislators, Backed by Gov. Evers, Propose Their Own Personal Property Tax Repeal Bill

A group of Democratic legislators joined with Gov. Evers to announce a new bill to repeal the personal property tax. Previously on July 8, the same day he signed the 2021-2023 state budget into law, the governor vetoed four bills including Assembly Bill 191. AB 191 would have exempted all remaining business and manufacturing personal property from personal property tax assessments, effective January 1, 2022.

In his veto message to the Legislature concerning AB 191, Gov. Evers wrote that he vetoed the bill because it would have created “unintended consequences for railroad and utility taxes as well as the manufacturing and agriculture credit.” The governor’s message also called upon the Legislature to “pass a new bill” addressing his concerns. The state budget as signed by the governor sets aside money to reimburse local taxing jurisdictions for lost revenue if the tax is repealed. Gov. Evers’ partial vetoes did not affect the appropriation to reimburse local governments.

The new bill is currently circulating as LRB-4737 and has yet to be formally introduced or referred to a legislative committee. Senator Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) and Representative Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) are co-sponsoring the legislation.

While AB 191 would have exempted from taxation all property classified as personal property beginning January 1, 2021, LRB-4737 would take effect at the beginning of 2022. Under the new bill, beginning in 2024, payments to municipalities for lost revenue would increase annually by the change in the consumer price index. Under AB 191, these payments would not have increased automatically.

According to Gov. Evers’ press release announcing LRB-4737, the bill would also address the following issues:

  • “Repealing the tax on railroad personal property and creating an appropriation to ensure the transportation fund remains whole.
  • “Continuing payments for rail terminals to municipalities.
  • “Clarifying language in state statutes governing the manufacturing and agriculture credit to ensure there is no impact on claimant eligibility.”

The new bill’s prospects in the Legislature are unclear. After it was announced, the co-authors of AB 191 criticized the governor for vetoing their original bill.