Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ex-GOP DNR official's clean water/food tax 'brainstorming' going nowhere

Will a Wisconsin sales tax on food to fund clean water initiatives end up in GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos's water quality task force this fall? The magic eight-ball says "probably not," though its history is interesting.

Current US EPA great lakes area regional staffer and former WI DNR official Russ Rasmussen confirmed by email to me today that he introduced the broader revenue subject for discussion at a task force working group's Aug. 22nd meeting. 

This is Rasmussen's entire reply:

"I was simply brainstorming an idea during a discussion about how to fund the initiatives that were being proposed.  I did not propose a referendum for a sales tax on food necessarily, but some sort of fee or tax to see if the citizens of the state were willing to pay in some directed form for water quality improvement.
"(By the way it is Missouri and Minnesota, not Iowa, at least as far as I am aware.)  Minnesota’s program is a 3/8% general sates tax earmarked for water quality and the arts. 
"To be honest, I don’t know how viable it is myself, but it seems to have been successful in those other states (to the point it was reauthorized by the public in each state), so thought it was worth at least a discussion.  As far as reception goes, some in the room seemed interested, but I did not get any sense if there was broad support or not.  I have absolutely no idea of how Representative Kitchens feels about it one way or the other.
GOP State Rep. Joel Joel Kitchens chairs that working group. His office said by email Monday that it does not have a record of the working group meetings. 
Because the Nitrate Work Group is a work group and not an official committee or task force, we are not required to keep records of the meetings and do not do so.
Farm runoff is a known source of the state's widespread groundwater pollution.

I'd also emailed Kitchens' office today a request for comment on Rasmussen's suggestion at the Aug. 22nd task force meeting, and if I get a response I will post it in full. 

The Capital Times reported today that the task force is wrapping up its work; a sales tax on food is not in the story's list of possible initiatives.

Task Force co-chair State Rep Katrina Shankland, (D-Stevens Point), told the CT that a new state sales tax was a non-starter, but a clean water fund was among the more doable 'big ideas.'
On continuing water funding, Shankland pointed to Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund, which collects revenue through a sales tax. Voters in that state added an amendment to their constitution in 2008 that increased the sales and use tax rate by three-eighths of a percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, a rate that began in 2009 and will last through 2034.
The generated dollars go toward four different funds, including the Clean Water Fund, which looks to safeguard water quality across lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater, as well as protect drinking water. 
Shankland, though, noted paying for a similar fund in Wisconsin through a sales tax would be “a non-starter in this building.” She added she’s been looking at creating a segregated fund – like the transportation fund -- and directing an existing fee or tax toward it, an option she said “could get bipartisan buy-in.” 
Note that a referendum would require a lengthy legislative approval procedure prior to a statewide vote, though a referendum would lift from Republicans the political burden of actual having to take a yes or no vote on instituting a new tax.

1 comment:

BillSell said...

"a referendum would lift the heavy burden of the Republicans having to raise a tax...."

Heck, we (Milwaukee) lifted that burden 11 years ago and you'd think one Republican might have noticed. Wake up, children.