April 6th, 2018


Hardly three months ago, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  Regardless of whether you think that law was wise, unwise or somewhere in the middle, its passage instantly created dilemmas for states, many of whose state tax laws mirror but do not automatically match the federal code.


With time running out in this spring's legislative session, we had to hustle.  Nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau staff, Department of Revenue staff and many stakeholders had to calculate the federal law's impact on countless state-level provisions; only then could we legislators make value judgments about what provisions to adopt on this short notice and what needed further discussion.


In most respects, it made logical and financial sense to change Wisconsin tax law to match the new federal law.  For example, if a person with student loan debt has his/her loan forgiven because the student died or became permanently disabled, the loan forgiveness will not be a taxable event at either the federal or state level.  We matched the new federal provisions for IRA accounts, 529 savings accounts, tax-exempt charitable organizations and more.  We actually increased taxes (have you ever heard me say that before?!) on our members of Congress by adopting the same new federal provision that limits the deduction they can claim on their travel to and from Washington.


So it was my distinct honor and privilege to accept from Governor Scott Walker this week, with colleagues and staff who also worked hard on this, the pen he used to sign Assembly Bill (AB) 259 into law, formally enacting all these changes.  When you file your tax returns next spring for the 2018 tax year, these changes will already be in effect; in almost every instance, Wisconsin will treat all your money the same way the feds do.


As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions.  Best wishes on your weekend!


Supporting Wisconsin's Children and Families


In a little more than a week, Governor Walker has signed more than 100 bills into law.  We're getting positive things done for you!  Highlights include:


Assembly Bill (AB) 924 improves families' access to high-quality child care.  It uses federal funds to increase both the rates and the quality incentive payments for four- and five-star child care providers.


Senate Bill (SB) 75 allows businesses to contribute to a college savings account for an employee or his/her child.


AB 422 combines forces among the Department of Workforce Development, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Children and Families to create a new transitional jobs program for veterans.  If a veteran has been unemployed for longer than four weeks and is ineligible for Wisconsin Works (W-2), an employer who hires the veteran may be eligible for reimbursement of a portion of the veteran's wages.


SB 415 enables you to indicate on your driver's license if you have a disability that is not readily apparent to others (i.e., autism, deafness, etc.).  That way, if the police pull you over, the officer will know right away that you have a condition that, say, interferes with your ability to communicate or comply.  This is a great way to defuse situations that might otherwise escalate, and it's also a way to reduce the frequency of events that create distrust among communities and law enforcement.


SB 408 strengthens the enforcement of existing laws by clarifying that the "straw purchase" of a firearm (intentionally transferring a firearm to someone who can't legally own one) or acting as a "human holster" (intentionally carrying a firearm so that someone else who can't legally possess one may access yours instead) are felony offenses.


A package of 11 bills, all of which I coauthored, from the bipartisan Speaker's Task Force on Foster Care to improve outcomes for children (especially with our foster care system under stress due to the opioid epidemic, which is causing significant increases in demand for services).


AB 737 ensures that repeat domestic violence offenders are subject to all of the penalties under Wisconsin law (even if their prior offenses occurred in another state).


SB 84, Wisconsin's very own "Right to Try" legislation, gives terminally ill patients a path to access experimental treatment options that haven't yet received federal regulatory approval.


More Dollars in Classrooms Than Ever Before!


You may have read in my previous newsletters a fact that might surprise you: the 2017-19 state budget law delivered more actual dollars to K-12 classrooms than ever before (despite the fact that enrollment trends modestly downward).  No gimmicks, no exceptions; every Wisconsin school district is actually receiving an additional $200 per pupil in 2017-18, which $200 is delivered again in 2018-19 along with another $204 per pupil in 2018-19.  In the real world, that means that a classroom of 20 students will receive more than $12,000 in new funding.


In addition, I coauthored a bill this spring to provide more help for rural schools, which Governor Walker signed into law just a few weeks ago.  Click on the map above to check out the interactive tool.  Basically, the lime-green districts (including every school district but one in the Sheboygan area) are historically low spenders who are newly eligible for one type of adjustment; the light blue ones get new sparsity aid (due to their relatively low student populations); and the dark teal-green districts are eligible for both.  This is a huge step to reducing disparity among our school districts and giving every student the best chance to achieve!


In addition, just two weeks ago, the state legislature passed (and Governor Walker signed into law) a new $100 million school safety program.  Every Wisconsin school is eligible for additional funding for building security upgrades; a new state Office of School Safety will provide training opportunities and best practices; and schools will be consulting with their local law enforcement agencies and conducting on-site assessments.


And while I'm on the subject: the latest National Education Association data ranks Wisconsin teacher salaries as the 23rd-best in the nation at just under $55,000/year.  If 23rd out of 50 doesn't sound very impressive at first, consider that Wisconsin's cost of living is markedly less than the national average, and consider also that most of the states who are higher on the list have markedly higher living costs... and that ranking takes on greater meaning!


Let me be clear: teachers earn every penny of their paychecks.  Wisconsin has a long history of excellence in education, directly due to the teachers who are so dedicated to helping each pupil reach his or her potential.  But, although you may have been told that your state government has "devastated" education funding in recent years, that simply isn't borne out by the facts.


These accomplishments are making Wisconsin an ever better place to learn, live and grow for all who call our state home!




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Room 208 North, State Capitol ● PO Box 8952 ● Madison, WI 53708
(608) 266-0656  ●  Rep.Katsma@legis.wisconsin.gov  ●  www.repkatsma.com