Child credit, sales tax holiday OK’d by Wisconsin Assembly

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers moved closer to enacting Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to give parents a tax credit and create a sales tax holiday, passing the package Thursday through the Assembly and on to the Senate. The legislation’s fate in that house is uncertain.

The Assembly passed the tax credit bill and an incentive package for consumer products-maker Kimberly-Clark, while also approving $350 million for a new prison and a host of other measures over a marathon final 12-hour day.

Walker’s plan calls for giving all parents a $100 per-child tax credit, funded through the state’s budget surplus. It also would repeal sales taxes on items costing less than $100 over the first weekend in August. The legislation would cost the state about $170 million in all.

Democrats blasted it as an election year gimmick — the sales tax holiday would fall just days before the August primary — but Assembly Republicans have embraced the plan. The chamber passed it 61-35 on Thursday.

“This money is taxpayers’ money and it should go back to them,” Republican Rep. Shannon Zimmerman said.

Democrats accused Walker and the GOP of trying to bribe voters. They said $100 would make little difference to families and Republicans should spend the money on other needs such as road repairs and public schools.

“We’re witnessing a last-ditch effort to buy votes. A hundred dollars is too little, too late,” Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent said.

Republicans pushed back hard, insisting that the surplus belongs to the taxpayers and $100 can make a huge difference for parents looking to buy school clothes for their children.

“You give me $100, I’m going to get down on the ground and thank you,” Republican Rep. Joe Sanfelippo said.

Assembly Republicans amended the measure to allow retailers to opt out of the sales tax holiday. Speaker Robin Vos said the move is designed to give options to small stores that might struggle to adjust their cash registers during the holiday. But the opt-out also could generate support among senators who have opposed sales tax holidays in the past. Regardless, Vos said the Senate could now take the bill or leave it.

The Assembly wrapped up its two-year session early Friday morning after a 12-hour day, and Republican leaders insisted they would not return even if the Senate makes changes to that or any other bill. Proposals must pass both the Senate and Assembly in identical form to become law.

The Assembly also passed a bill that would make it easier to revoke parole for anyone charged with a felony or violent misdemeanor, approve borrowing $350 million to pay for a new adult prison and spend nearly $4 million more to hire about 54 new prosecutors. Its fate in the Senate is also unknown.

Democratic critics spoke against the revocation changes, saying it would overwhelm the criminal justice system, cost too much and not reduce crime. The change is expected to send hundreds more people to prison every year and increase costs to the state by $57 million a year.

Vos said he wanted to approve borrowing for the new prison now while lawmakers await recommendations of a prison study task force. Given that prisons are already 30 percent over capacity, and the Legislature was passing tough-on-crime bills expected to put even more people behind bars, Vos said it was a foregone conclusion that a new prison would be needed.

Democrats questioned the allocation of the new prosecutors, which are based on a 2014 needs study, saying it’s wrong that none of them are slated for Dane or Milwaukee counties, the state’s largest.

The Assembly also approved a tax incentive package designed to dissuade Kimberly-Clark from cutting 600 jobs in northeastern Wisconsin. The consumer products giant has been non-committal to the proposal, which Walker put forward mirroring incentives given to Taiwanese company Foxconn Technology Group.