Budget Update – Efforts to Save the Mill Tax
Last week, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) concluded their public hearings across the state. I’d like to thank all of you who came out to share your thoughts on the Governor’s Budget Proposal. It’s crucial for the Committee to hear what’s important to the folks who live up north.
The next step in the budget process is the JFC will begin voting on provisions in the Governor’s budget. The committee can decide to keep, modify, or delete provisions. One provision I’m working very hard to get removed from the budget is related to the States Forestry Mill Tax.
The Governor has proposed eliminating the tax and instead provide General Purpose Revenue (GPR) for forestry operations. I think this could be detrimental to our Forestry Industry. Up in the Northwoods we all understand how vital a sustainable healthy forest is. I think it gets lost on folks south of us that Forestry is the second largest contributor to our state’s economy and provides more than 64,000 jobs. Since 1930, we’ve had a secure funding source (the Forestry Mill tax) and this is a huge reason why our forests are so healthy and the envy of many other states.
The governor proposes shifting $180 million in GPR to replace the funding we receive from the Mill Tax. Going forward, this could put us in a position where forestry would have to compete with Education, Transportation, and Healthcare for adequate funding. I’m concerned that when Forestry is forced to compete for those dollars it will come in last. It’s simply not a risk I want to take. The average home owner pays $27 per year for the Forestry Mill tax. The money that’s collected goes towards: wildland fire control, the 2.4 million acre County Forest Program, forest-management programs on private lands, tree care programs across the state, and helps pay down the bonding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program.
There are concerns that the money that’s collected from the Forestry Mill tax is being used to support non-forestry related projects. I’ve asked for accounting data from the DNR on this and I haven’t found there to be an abuse of these dollars. I’m prepared to ask for an audit of the forestry account and if there are changes that need to be made we can adjust the level of the mill tax accordingly going forward. I think that’s an appropriate approach to take instead of cutting off our secure funding source without having this pertinent information. Because once we get rid of the Forestry Mill Tax, we won’t ever get it back.
I’m not certain when this will come forward for action by the JFC. I’m working with some of legislative colleagues to get this provision removed. If you feel as strongly as I do, please contact the legislators on the Joint Finance Committee. You can find a list of members by clicking on this link: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/committees/joint/1680
This article posted direct from the office of Representative Jeff Mursau.