In response to Gov. Tony Evers’ package of farm assistance bills unveiled last month, Assembly Republicans say they plan to roll out their own collection of bills — that would come with a much bigger price tag — aimed at assisting Wisconsin’s ailing agriculture industry.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Feb 4, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the bills could entail a targeted tax credit and health insurance deduction options for farmers.
Vos said the hope is for lawmakers to take up a combination of new agriculture bills, legislation already in the works and some of the eight bills proposed last month by Evers. Vos said the plan is to address the bills before the Assembly likely adjourns later this month.
Republican lawmakers were vague on some of the details in the bills, which Vos said would be unveiled late last week, but he said the overall state investment will be “significantly bigger” than the $8.5 million package of bills proposed by Evers last month in his State of the State address.
“We would probably like to do something that is bigger and bolder than what he first proposed,” Vos said. “It would probably cost more money than the $8.5 million because while that is something that is definitely helpful to farmers, it is probably too small an effort to make a substantial difference.”
A full cost estimate of all the bills was not available.
Vos said one of the biggest criticisms of Evers’ bills are they are more long-term focused, rather than providing quicker solutions.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Feb. 4, Evers raised some concern that tax credits are deferred, while farmers need immediate assistance, but he added he looks forward to what should be bipartisan discussion.
“Good gosh, we’re in a position now where people care about this in a way that they’re willing to move forward on something,” Evers said. “I’m happy about the ideas. Let’s get them on the table and figure them out.”
When speaking about the price tag, Evers said he’s more than happy to see spending increase.
“It seems to me that we’ve always worried about whether we propose something if they’re going to complain about how much money we’re spending,” Evers said. “If they want to put more money into mental health issues, or they want to put more money into some of the other programs, have at it. I’m with them.”
Evers last month unveiled the package of eight bills aimed at addressing the state’s struggling agriculture industry.
One proposed bill would create the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports, aimed at increasing Wisconsin’s dairy exports.
Other bills would expand grant opportunities for small dairy processing plants, assist farmers seeking to expand or diversify their operations, establish five regional positions across the state to provide farmers with mental health support, and create 20 county-based positions with UW-Extension to provide farmers with free research and technical assistance.
Last week, the Republican-led Senate and Assembly opened up special sessions on the package of bills, per Evers’ request, but have not formally discussed any of the bills. The Committee on Senate Organization voted Tuesday to introduce Evers’ legislation.
“Republicans in the Senate have said since the start that we’re all ears when it comes to plans that help farmers,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement Feb. 4. “We’re taking an all-the-above approach as a caucus and are continuing to review all the bills in front of us as we look to address the special session call.”
Following the State of the State address, Fitzgerald said he was interested to see what Evers’ bills entail, but he added that passing all eight bills before the Senate adjourns this spring would be “pretty aggressive.”
Vos also has said it’s unlikely the entire bill package proposed by Evers will pass, but said the Legislature will consider all eight bills.
In addition to the bill package, Evers last month announced the creation of the Office of Rural Prosperity within the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to help connect rural businesses and communities with assistance or financial incentives.
WEDC Secretary Melissa Hughes on Monday, Feb. 3, said work is underway to establish the new office, which is independent of the package of bills.