Just Fix It Wisconsin

Roads, tax break top GOP agenda 9/7/2016

9/7/2016, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Assembly Republicans Wednesday proposed providing all high school freshmen with computers, extending a freeze on college tuition, putting driverless cars on the road and finding more money for highways.

They also want to create a sales tax holiday on school supplies each fall — an idea GOP Gov. Scott Walker also put forward this week.

Republicans are expected to hang onto their majority in the Assembly in the Nov. 8 election and they spelled out on Wednesday what they plan to do in the two-year legislative session that starts in January.

Computers. They want to provide every high school freshman with a computer or tablet, regardless of income. They also say they’ll try to create more opportunities for students to check out mobile hot spots and connect with Wi-Fi on school buses.

“For kids to not have access to devices or to not have access to the internet really puts them behind the curve as they get ready for the work force of the future,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

The devices would be available to students in public schools, charter schools and private schools that receive taxpayer funding through the state’s voucher programs.

Lawmakers didn’t say how much the idea would cost, but with more than 74,000 freshmen, it could reach the tens of millions of dollars a year. Vos stressed that his caucus planned to increase funding for schools in the state budget they approve next year.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) expressed doubts about GOP support for schools, noting Republicans have cut funding for public schools and the University of Wisconsin System.

“Education is clearly not a priority for them,” he said in a statement.

At a stop in Menomonee Falls, Walker said he had seen Twitter messages about the computer proposal but not specifics. He said he would take a look at it.

Roads. Assembly Republicans want to find more money for roads, but Walker and Republicans who run the Senate have strongly resisted any increase in the gas tax or vehicle registration fees. The issue is expected to be one of the biggest battles during state budget deliberations.

Vos said he first wanted to find all possible savings for building roads, but that more funding may be necessary because the state faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall for transportation over the next two years.

“We know there is no magic bullet,” Vos said. “Eliminating roundabouts isn’t going to solve the billion-dollar deficit … We know that we have borrowed too much in the past and that as cars have become more and more fuel efficient, revenues have remained stagnant while costs have really increased over time.”

Walker has remained steadfast against raising the gas tax unless an equivalent cut is made in other taxes.

“That’s a promise I made to taxpayers I plan on fulfilling,” Walker told reporters Wednesday.

Assembly Republicans said all options for raising money remain on the table, including increasing the gas tax. Other ideas include naming rights, advertising and tolling. Tolling on interstates would require approval from the federal government.

Driverless cars. Assembly Republicans are eyeing legislation to allow driverless cars on Wisconsin roads. Initially, the legislation would allow such vehicles to be tested on roads and then allow them to operate regularly.

Similar legislation would clear the way for robots and other “personal delivery devices” that could bring groceries or other goods to customers.

Vacation rentals. Regulations would be tightened on sites like Airbnb.com to make sure their customers pay the same taxes those using hotels do, under another proposal.

Crime. Vos said he wanted to increase penalties for serious crimes while decreasing them for minor offenses. He also called for putting more cops on the street in Milwaukee.

Tuition freeze. Republicans have frozen tuition for four years at University of Wisconsin schools, and Assembly Republicans say they’ll do it again for at least another year. Vos said the freeze could be extended for another year after that but added he would be open to an increase at that point that would match inflation.

Assembly Republicans also said they would try to improve the transfer of credits from Wisconsin technical schools to UW schools and work to get more students degrees in four years.

Sales tax holiday. Walker and Assembly Republicans want to give parents a break on school supplies each fall.

Walker’s proposal would be in place for two days in August 2017 and two days in August 2018, but would not be available in subsequent years. It would apply to school supplies, computers costing less than $750, and clothing items costing less than $75 each.

Walker’s Department of Revenue indicates the proposal would reduce state taxes by $11 million for each of the two years, decreasing sales tax collections by less than one-quarter of 1%. It would reduce local sales taxes by an additional $1 million a year.

Approved in 1961, the Wisconsin sales tax now stands at 5%. All but 10 of the state’s 72 counties impose a 0.5% sales tax on top of that, and some other local districts add an additional amount. In Milwaukee County, the sales tax is 5.6% to cover the state sales tax, county sales tax and Miller Park sales tax.

Tax reform. Assembly Republicans plan to form a task force to review the state’s overall tax structure, with the goal of establishing “fairer, flatter and lower taxes,” according to a summary of their plan.

In addition, they say they will stop charging income taxes on Olympians for any medals or prize money they win.

Domestic partnerships. Assembly Republicans want to make unspecified changes to the state’s domestic partnership law, which was passed in 2009, at a time when the state banned gay marriage. The law provides limited protections for unmarried same-sex couples but is not available to opposite-sex couples.

Right to try. Those with terminal illnesses would get easier access to experimental treatments, under another proposal.