Republicans promise ‘bigger and bolder’ rural Wisconsin plan


MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers are considering proposals to cut property taxes and insurance costs for farmers as part of a package to help rural Wisconsin that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Tuesday promised would be “bigger and bolder” than what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers put forward.

Evers called a special session of the Legislature to take up his $8.5 million package, which included a $1 million effort to increase dairy exports and the hiring of more people at the state agriculture department and University of Wisconsin-Madison extension division to work with farmers.

Assembly Republicans don’t yet have a total for what their agriculture package would cost, but Vos said at a Capitol news conference it would be “significantly bigger” than what Evers had proposed. He hoped to announce the bills by the end of the week.

Evers told reporters he was open to the Republican ideas, although he worried about the tax cuts not having an immediate positive impact.

“Good gosh, we’re in a position now where people care about this in a way that they’re willing to move forward on something,” Evers said. “So I’m happy about the ideas. Let’s get them on the table and figure it out.”

One proposal Assembly Republicans are working on would allow farmers and other sole proprietors to deduct the cost of health insurance from their income taxes. That would be around $9 million, but it’s not known how much of that would directly benefit farmers, Vos said. Another bill would extend a tax credit to farmers for some portion of their property taxes. But how much the credit would be, in total and for the average farmer, remained in flux, Vos said.

Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Republicans who control the Legislature will consider the governor’s ideas while also looking at others.

“We’re going to try and take the best ideas he offered, the best ones we came up with and move them through the process,” Vos said. He has been critical of Evers not working together with Republicans, including his agriculture package, most of which was earlier proposed as part of the state budget last year.

Vos said he intended to talk with Evers about the Republican ideas before he releases them publicly.

Evers called for action to help rural Wisconsin during his State of the State speech two weeks ago. Wisconsin is struggling with the loss of one-third of its dairy farms since 2011. The state loses an average of two dairy farms a day as farmers suffer under low milk prices.