A little-known provision of the pending budget bill has caused concern with a northern Wisconsin legislator and a Northwoods forestry group.
Governor Walker's proposed budget eliminates the Forestry Mill Tax and replaces it with general purpose revenue. The tax currently generates about $80 million dollars. It's about $27 for an average homeowner.
The tax was authorized in 1924 to support broad-based forestry programs after the 'cut-over' time to restore Wisconsin's forests. It is the only state-based property tax.
Republican legislator Jeff Mursau of Crivitz says if it's funded with general state tax dollars, it's probably o.k. for two years, but beyond that, those items will compete with education, healthcare and other accounts, and he says could hurt rural Wisconsin..
"....it has things funded all over the state. Some of the things important to everybody in the state is the fire equipment(departments) able to get grants throught the Mill Tax to get fire equipment to fight forest fires...."
Mursau says the change could endanger forestry jobs. He says forestry is the second largest employer in Wisconsin. Mursau says the Forestry Mill Tax is a critical reason why Wisconsin's forests are so healthy.
Joe Hovel from Partners in Forestry headquartered in Vilas county says the tax has helped find common ground between public and private interests...
"....it's helped plant trees in our busiest cities and across rural landscapes, supports environmental education for our school children, provides technical assistance to private woodland owners, maintains county forests for a variety of recreational activities and forest products, continues conservation traditions by improving wildlife habitat and providing clean air and clean water...."
Several other forestry-related groups have also expressed concern. Mursau is working the halls in Madison to get co-sponsors on a bill the would eliminate that provision from the state budget bill now under discussion.
Partners In Forestry is here.