Legislative Update, Dec 2011
Although the holiday season is quickly approaching, things have been busy in Madison. This past week, I testified before Assembly Committees in favor of two bills I have authored this session.
The first bill, AB 52, would make retirement income exempt from the state income tax. I authored this bill along with State Senator Neal Kedzie. In fact, Senator Kedzie has been fighting for reducing taxes on retirement income for over a decade. Specifically, the legislation would be phased in over a four year period, starting in tax year 2013 with a cap of $5,000 and going up to $20,000 in 2016. Our goal is make Wisconsin a more attractive place to retire.
Recently several publications have named Wisconsin as being in the top ten worst places to retire. In fact, a recent report by Kiplinger has classified Wisconsin as a “tax hell.” Another analysis, mentioned by the Wall Street Journal, also placed Wisconsin in the bottom ten states to retire and specifically pointed out: “Wisconsin's real downfall in this category is having the second-highest tax burden in the country, after adjusting for retirement exemptions.”
With many other states having more favorable retirement tax policies than Wisconsin, it is important we take action. This is particularly pertinent with both Illinois and Florida having no tax on retirement income at all, thereby acting as magnets for our senior citizens. Although we can’t change the winter weather, we can improve the tax climate to ensure as many seniors as possible chose to remain in Wisconsin.
The second bill, AJR 49, would amend the state’s constitution to change the way the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is selected. Currently, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court chief justice is solely based on seniority - the member who has been there the longest. Only five states use seniority as the sole criteria in selecting the chief justice. These states include: Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
My legislation would make the selection of chief justice a peer vote among the seven justices. Twenty-two other states have this selection process for their Supreme Court system, including our neighboring states of Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan.
I believe allowing justices to choose their own leader makes the most sense. In states that already have this selection process, chief justices that want to remain in that leadership role are required to maintain good relationships with their colleagues whether they agree with the others or not. I believe this would result in a much healthier Supreme Court in Wisconsin. This bill would have to pass two consecutive sessions of the state legislature and then be approved by voters on a state-wide ballot before becoming law.
I am hopeful both bills will continue to advance and be brought up for a vote during the upcoming spring legislative session. Along with improving our state’s economy, enhancing the tax climate for retirees and reforming the Wisconsin Supreme Court will remain a top objective of mine going into the next legislative floor session.