Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and a group of more than a dozen Republican Assembly representatives announced they plan to focus on agriculture and helping farmers during what remains of the legislative session.
Despite the session nearing what Republicans have set as the end date, Vos said he was considering a mix of bills that might include bills proposed by Gov. Tony Evers during the State of the State speech, bills already in the works and some Vos planned to make public later in the week.
While saying he would consider Evers’ eight bills — perhaps even in the special session the governor initiated — Vos added that those bills were “primarily long-term” and spent only $8.5 million, indicating Republican bills would cost considerably more.
While offering few details, Vos said he felt more money was needed to really help struggling farmers in the short-term, so he would have a “bigger and bolder” plan that the Evers’ legislation.
“We know that agriculture makes up 11% of our workforce and contributes over $100 billion to our state’s economy every year,” said Vos. “I was at a Farm Bureau meeting right after Gov. Evers proposed a special session on agriculture and I asked them what are the things that you have heard about that would really make a difference. And they were not critical of what Gov. Evers offered. They just felt it was not really anything that would be a substantial benefit in the short term to farmers. And Wisconsin farmers need help now.”
The Republicans’ overview of what the bills might entail included a tax credit for sole proprietors, a tax deduction for health insurance costs, a property tax cut specifically for farmers and plans to grow the export market.
Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) said farmers like himself see growth opportunities in new markets, specifically India and the Middle East. “We need to beef up — no pun intended there — our efforts to capitalize on these new trade deals and emerging trade deals,” said Kurtz. “I’d like to see DATCP and WEDC work together to explore and to make all efforts to expand our exports, especially for our dairy products.” Kurtz, who grows hemp, listed that as another potential export — with possible use by the military to replace polyester and meet Buy American requirements.
Vos promised more details later this week. He said one bill “would focus on the idea that property taxes are a significant burden still for many farmers,” adding, “So that’s one of the things we’re going to talk about with the caucus is seeing if there’s a credit for some portion of property taxes.” He declined to give any specific costs.
Vos also alluded to a helping all sole proprietors — including famers — with the cost of health insurance. “We know that if you are a sole proprietor, which is what the vast majority of small family farms are, they are not allowed to deduct the cost of their health insurance against their income taxes as the way that they would if they were a corporation or a larger farm,” said Vos. “So one of the things that we’re looking at would be a proposal to allow smaller family farms to be able to deduct the cost of their health insurance to save money on their income tax bill, and also provide high quality health care for themselves and hopefully a small number of employees.”
Asked how he would reply to Democrats who would recommend he instead accept the federal funding to expand Medicaid, Vos labeled that action welfare.
“Well, if you want to use welfare, I don’t think most farmers want welfare,” said Vos. “I think they want the ability to provide health insurance for their families in the private marketplace.”
The Republican announcement drew praise from the Dairy Business Association and the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, both of which also thanked Evers for his proposals.
“Action by Assembly Republicans and the Governor is legislative leadership defined, and we have great hope that, in the final weeks of session, Republicans and Democrats will work together to boost Wisconsin’s crucial dairy industry,” said WCMA Executive Director John Umhoefer.