Madison skyline
(Photo © Andy Manis)

Governor: “It’s not enough, but at least it’s a step in the right direction,” as he signs tax break and supports unemployment reform.

After nearly 310 days without tangible legislative action, the Wisconsin Legislature has passed a bill that Gov. Tony Evers signed, and the governor may do it again in less than a week. 

Evers on Thursday put his signature on a measure that cuts taxes by nearly half a billion dollars for Wisconsin businesses that accepted loans from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.  The loans are already tax deductible under federal law but not under the state code. Making the coronavirus relief tax deductible under Wisconsin’s code is estimated to result in a state tax cut of $450 million by the middle of 2023.

The new law will benefit nearly a dozen state lawmakers who own businesses that accepted PPP loans, according to data from the US Office of Personnel compiled by federalpay.org, a website built by federal employees. A proposal to cap the tax deduction at $250,000 failed to become an amendment to the bill that passed with bipartisan votes in both the Assembly and Senate Tuesday.

Earlier: Vos Company Got Thousands in COVID Aid as Many Wait on Help From the Legislature He Leads

Business owners in the state said the tax exemption will help them continue to recover from the economic challenges posed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Will Glass, the owner of the Brewing Projekt brewery in Eau Claire, said the PPP tax relief measure will save his business between $10,000 and $15,000. 

“It helps a lot,” Glass said in reaction to the tax deduction. “Paying it would not have broken our backs, but it would have been a hit, and for some businesses, it would have really had a big impact.”

Another bipartisan Senate vote on Thursday helped propel a bill designed to begin updating the state’s antiquated unemployment insurance system that Gov. Tony Evers has blamed for causing delays in the processing of claims filed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Evers signaled he would sign the bill once it passes the Assembly as soon as Tuesday. The two bills represent the first measures approved and signed by Evers since last April.

While the bill would start the process of upgrading the state’s outdated computer systems that handle unemployment insurance claims, there is no funding provided. Instead, the state would have to use federal money to begin the process and then seek additional funding from the GOP-controlled Legislature.

After a decade of controlling the state budget process, Republicans have tried to blame Evers for a system that has been past its prime for many years. But when Evers called a special session of the Legislature to debate his plan for fixing it, Republicans procedurally ignored him.

The Senate passed the measure 27-3, with the no votes coming from three Milwaukee-area Democrats.

“While I wish the Legislature would have provided the funding we asked for that we need to fix this system once and for all, I’m glad the Legislature is finally taking this issue seriously after years of inaction,” Evers said in a statement. “It’s not enough, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.”

The measure also includes some portions of a COVID-19 bill that Evers vetoed. It would waive the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits until March 14, and it extends limited liability from coronavirus-related lawsuits to businesses, governments and schools. 

Other provisions of the earlier bill that Evers objected to, like forbidding employers from requiring workers to get the vaccine, are not included in the bill approved Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.