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Legislature needs to focus on roads, families, schools

Janet Bewley

People probably get tired of hearing me talk about how lucky we are to live in northern Wisconsin. In addition to the abundant natural beauty, the people who live here have more than their fair share of creativity, energy and general stick-to-itiveness. Last week, I saw a lot of that on display at the Northwest Regional Planning Commission’s annual meeting at the Flat Creek Inn & Suites, in Hayward.

NWRPC is the oldest planning commission in Wisconsin and one of the first multi-county planning commissions in the nation. The people I talked with all share a commitment to do their best to build on our strengths and improve our economic standing.

Unfortunately, choices made in Madison by the governor and the leaders of the Legislature aren’t designed to benefit everyone. Instead, they benefit only a tiny fraction of the people in this great state.

In the 2011 state budget, a provision was slipped in late in the process to phase in a so-called "Manufacturing and Agriculture" tax credit. It was supposed to be a boon to job creation and the state’s economy, even though no job creation or retention is required to claim the credit.

What it’s proven to be is a shameless giveaway that has had negligible, if not negative, effect on our state’s economy.

A memo released last week showed that a stunning $21 million of taxes the rest of us still have to pay will be given to just 11 people. No, that’s not 11 percent, that’s 11 people in a state of 5,771,337.

Perhaps most alarmingly, just 2,280 people whose income exceeds $500,000 per year will receive a staggering $186 million. The vast majority, 99.8 percent of Wisconsin’s population, cannot qualify for this credit.

Next year, 2017, will be the first year the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit will be fully implemented, and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau states it will cost more than $209 million.

Compare that benefit for the wealthy to the burden on average Wisconsin taxpayers and families, cuts to schools and the University of Wisconsin system including UW-Extension and the two-year colleges; and the total disregard for roads and infrastructure in the rural north.

A new memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that in the three years, 2010 through 2012, before this credit started to take effect, Wisconsin gained 31,431 manufacturing jobs. In three years since the credit started to take effect, we’ve added 10,904 manufacturing jobs according to the gold standard, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Wisconsin workers gained three times as many manufacturing jobs before the credit as they have since.

Has the credit worked?

The data available clearly says no. And the wealthy few who received the credit don’t have to say or prove anything.

Our roads, our schools and our local universities have taken huge cuts. Property taxpayers have too often been asked to make up the difference. And $209 million is set to go out the door for a tax credit 99.8 percent of Wisconsin doesn’t qualify for — a giveaway that has resulted in fewer manufacturing jobs.

It’s time to focus on our roads, our schools, and the well-being of taxpayers and families.

Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Delta, represents the 25th District in the Wisconsin Legislature.