Income Tax “Steering Committee” Won’t Be Doing Any Steering
Democrats All Object to Committee Report with No Recommendations
Although political leaders have said that changes in Wisconsin’s income taxes will be on the legislature’s agenda this year, the choices won’t be guided by any recommendations from the study committee that was created to develop proposals for income tax reform. That committee has now wrapped up its work, without debating or voting on any of the reform proposals that were offered during the fall.
The committee in question is the Steering Committee on Income Tax, which was directed to: “conduct information symposia and develop recommendations regarding Wisconsin’s income tax code” (emphasis added). The committee had been planning to have a meeting on December 13 to consider possible recommendations, but members were notified on Dec. 7 that the meeting was being cancelled and might be rescheduled. A week or so later the committee members learned that there wouldn’t be another meeting or a vote on recommendations. That news arrived in the form of a ballot asking the members to vote yes or no on a final report that merely summarizes the committee meetings.
The final vote (which was published last week on the Legislative Council website) was 4-4, with all the Democrats voting “no.” As I understand it, the Democratic members didn’t have any problem with the substance of the report; it was the lack of substance that they were voting against. They were objecting to the fact that the committee wasn’t given a chance to finish the work it was directed to do.
The steering committee was chaired by Representative Robin Vos, who is the new Speaker of the Assembly. The fact that the committee didn’t debate or vote on recommendations doesn’t appear to be any indication that Rep. Vos has soured on the idea of making changes to state income taxes. In fact, in a Dec. 26 article in the Racine Journal Times, Vos reiterated his interest in pursuing such changes in the coming session. Governor Walker is expected to work with Vos in developing income tax proposals that will be in his 2013-15 budget bill.
The decision to cut the committee out of the process of developing recommendations for income tax changes is a sharp contrast to the work of the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, whose preliminary recommendations were unveiled several weeks ago. That advisory group has been grappling with the far more difficult task of developing a package of revenue increases that will finance state transportation needs over the next 10 years. The draft of their recommendations was made public a full month before the commission is expected to vote on its final report.
In contrast to that relatively open and transparent exercise in democracy, the termination of the Income Tax Steering Committee is a blow to transparency. And freezing most of the committee members out of playing a role in the development of the tax proposals that are likely to be put into the budget bill is inconsistent with the recent pledges by GOP leaders that they will strive for bipartisan cooperation this session.
Let’s hope that these developments are an aberration rather than an early indicator of another extremely partisan session.