The Assembly Ways and Means committee heard testimony Wednesday regarding two Republican-backed bills on a tax-free childcare reimbursement for parents and an income tax rate decrease for Wisconsin’s second-highest tax bracket.
The child care bills are part of a larger package of six bills Republican lawmakers introduced in late August to address concerns about rising childcare costs across the state and lack of infrastructure to support families.
Other bills in the package proposed loan programs to renovate childcare facilities, lowering the age for assistant childcare teachers from 18 to 16 and increasing the ratio of children per childcare worker.
“This child care bill is good for our children, our parents [and] our workforce. It is good for Wisconsin," Rep. Karen Hurd, R-Fall Creek, said during Wednesday’s committee meeting. “The package before us now is absolutely needed to make a huge dent in correcting the broken child care model.”
However, the bill package is largely unpopular among Gov. Tony Evers and other Democrats who for months have pressed Republicans to extend funding for Child Care Counts, a pandemic-era federal subsidy program for child care providers that GOP lawmakers.
Evers tried to include $340 million in funding for the program in the state’s two-year state budget, but Republicans on the state’s budget-writing committee cut the funding in June.
Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, D-Madison, called the alternative Republican package “completely insufficient in addressing Wisconsin’s child care crisis” during committee proceedings Wednesday.
However, some child care workers expressed support for one of the bills brought for a hearing Wednesday.
The bill, AB 387, would allow parents and interested parties, such as relatives or employers, to contribute a maximum of $10,000 per year to a nontaxable savings fund for childcare expenses including daycare or summer camps.
The money would not roll over into previous years and would be lost if left unspent.
Organizations such as the Wisconsin Child Care Administrators Association and the Milwaukee Child Care Alliance voiced their support for the childcare bill, though they stated their strong opposition to other proposals in the package.
Additionally, some Democrats found agreement within the reimbursement program.
“It's fairly easy to use and it makes sense once you get going,” Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, said. “It does make a big difference.”
Evers last month called a special session of the Legislature and urged Republicans to take action on child care funding. It’s still unclear whether Republicans will introduce the child care bill package during the special session on Sept. 20.
GOP picks up where they left off
Republicans are also looking to revive billions of dollars in tax cuts that Evers vetoed earlier this summer during the two-year state budget writing process.
Republicans in late August reintroduced a bill that would reduce income taxes for Wisconsin’s third tax bracket, which includes those who annually make between $27,630 and $304,170 in taxable income as well as joint filers who make between $36,840 and $405,550.
As with his decision on July’s attempted tax cut, Evers says he plans to veto the bill if placed on his desk, calling it “yet another tax plan that puts our state on a path to bankruptcy.”
The plan would cut $3 billion in income taxes over the next two years, something that many Democrats are worried is unsustainable.
“I dont have the confidence that we’ll have the money in three years,” Rep. Sue Conley, D-Janesville, said. “I want to see this vetted more deeply.”
Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, disagreed with concerns about costliness.
“We spent what we had and we hoped that we would have more revenue the year after that, and that always happens,” he said.
The bill passed out of committee on a 9-3 vote, largely along party lines. Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha, was the only exception, voting with Republicans. But his vote may change by Tuesday’s Assembly session, Ohnstad said.
If Evers vetoes this second tax cut, Republicans will need a veto-proof majority to override it, something that may require across-the-aisle support.
Annika Bereny is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state news and politics reporting. Follow her on Twitter at @annikabereny.