The 2013-14 legislative session has been one of the most beneficial for Wisconsin taxpayers.
Three years ago, Wisconsin faced a multi-billion dollar deficit left behind by the previous Administration and Legislature. The state was drowning in debt, unemployment was near double-digit numbers, and crippling tax increases had become the status quo.
Since then, the new Governor and Legislature have worked hard to get Wisconsin back on track and heading in the right direction. Numerous initiatives have been enacted to help the private sector create jobs and turn a struggling economy around. Because of those efforts, the state budget is now balanced, deficits are under control, taxes have leveled off – with some even decreasing – and the unemployment rate continues to drop.
While the 2013-14 legislative session is still in progress, much has already been accomplished this year, beginning with significant reductions in income and property taxes.
Earlier this year, an impressive $1 billion tax relief package was approved in the state budget, including an income tax cut of more than $650 million, one of the largest tax cuts in state history. As a result, every state income taxpayer will realize an average tax reduction of $152 in each of the next two years.
In addition, a bill providing $100 million more in public school funding was enacted, creating additional property tax relief for Wisconsin families and businesses. While the amount of property tax relief will vary, the owner of a median-valued home should see an average reduction of $18 in this year’s property tax with only a slight increase next year.
This will mark the third straight year in which property taxes across the state have gone up less than 1% on average. This is significant, as the last time property taxes rose by less than 1% in consecutive years was 1946.
In an effort to spur job growth in the private sector, a number of worker training bills were recently passed by the Legislature that include nearly $9 million for training and apprenticeship programs that give Wisconsin residents the opportunity to access worker training programs and gain employment. Those state funds will also help pull in an additional $15.5 million in new federal funds for vocational rehabilitation programs designed to help people with disabilities enter the workforce.
Another measure recently signed into law provides start-up companies with greater access to investment capital. Wisconsin job creators and investors are now finally able to harness the power of the internet to connect with Wisconsin based crowd-funding platforms.
Crowd-funding allows investors to obtain an investment stake in a business and benefit from the success of the business, thus helping startup companies raise the capital they need to grow and create jobs.
While those acts are a priority for the Legislature, other issues are equally important.
Statistics show that one in five Wisconsin residents will have been affected by a mental illness this year, and nearly two-thirds of those with a diagnosable mental disorder do not get the treatment and support they need. The state budget provides more than $28 million for mental health funding to assist families and children receive the help they need in order to live healthier, stable, and productive lives.
Finally, in order to help parents and students with the rising costs of college, a two year tuition freeze for all resident undergraduate students at all of the 26 University of Wisconsin system universities and colleges was enacted. This is the first tuition freeze in the history of the UW System.
While much has been accomplished, there are still a number of issues that may be addressed before the 2013-14 legislative session ends early next year. Some of those issues relate to health care, mental health, alcohol and drug abuse use, and certainly a continued focus on job creation and economic development.
As 2013 comes to a close, Wisconsin finds itself in a much better place than just a few years ago.
Our tax ranking has improved, businesses are both moving to and expanding within the state, and the prospects for a brighter economic outlook have greatly improved. All of this is welcome news for Wisconsin, especially at this time of year.
I wish you and all your loved ones a joyous holiday season and a wonderful New Year!
Senator Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free 1 (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com