Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee follows Gov. Walker’s lead, nixes forestry mill tax
Wisconsin took another step backward May 31 in losing the forestry mill tax and cutting back the DNR’s Natural Resources Magazine from six to four issues when the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) took up the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) budget for 2017-19.
The governor’s proposed budget eliminates the forestry mil tax and will fund forestry operations with general purpose revenues (state income and sales taxes).
Despite opposition from many forestry groups, the JFC refused to even discuss the mill tax proposal.
Though the panel did not vote on the issue, saying they’ll take it up with general tax issues, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, announced that Assembly and Senate Republicans decided to accept the governor’s proposal.
That means the forestry mill tax is all but dead. When future legislatures debate how much money to spend on forestry, the debt on the Stewardship Fund, and fire control in wild lands, forestry will be pitted against funding for schools, road repair, the latest health scare, and other basic services.
The forestry mill tax has been in existence since the state’s Constitution was amended to allow it in 1930 to bring back to health 17 million acres of forests in the state.
Besides private woodland owners, local town and municipal fire departments could feel the pinch if future GPR funding is reduced. Then local and some volunteer fire departments will eventually be responsible for all fires and will have to purchase special equipment for fighting fires on rural, wild lands such as the Germann Road fire that burned 7,500 acres in 2013 in northwestern Wisconsin.
The DNR routinely fights thousands of fires in rural lands every year, funded by forestry mill tax funds.
The JFC allowed the DNR’s Natural Resources Magazine to survive – at least for the next two years – but reduced the magazine from six to four issues per year. JFC members also indicated it may terminate the magazine in future budgets.
The JFC also increased camping fees and daily admissions to state parks. In previous budgets, the governor and Legislature completely eliminated GPR funding for state parks.
It is clear that the governor and majority legislators are willing to sacrifice this state’s natural resources in favor of their future campaign slogans promoting the lowering of taxes.
Wisconsin’s heritage of caring for future natural resources has been tarnished, and funding mechanisms are no longer certain.