MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin's most powerful business lobbying group is calling on the Legislature to pass a right-to-work law, something Republican Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly said distracts from his agenda.
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Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce president and CEO Kurt Bauer said in a column on the group's website dated Monday that a right-to-work law is needed to make the state competitive with 24 others that already have one. In general, right-to-work laws prohibit private-sector unions from requiring workers to join or pay dues as a condition of employment.
Bauer also supported a "modest gas tax hike" and higher vehicle registration fees to pay for roads projects, as well as eliminating the highest income tax bracket.
The state Department of Transportation is calling for $751 million in tax and fee increases, including raising the gas tax and imposing a new registration fee on electric and hybrid cars, to pay for road repairs and construction. Walker has not said whether he will endorse those recommendations.
Walker also said during his re-election campaign that he wants to lower income and property taxes in his second term, but he has not yet laid out a specific plan.
The highest personal income tax bracket in Wisconsin is 7.65 percent for individuals earning more than $236,600 and $315,460 for couples. The next lowest bracket taxes at 6.27 percent.
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Walker is a close ally with WMC, a group that pushes a conservative agenda on behalf of its 3,800 members that include large and small manufacturers and companies, local chambers of commerce and specialized trade associations. He will lay out his major legislative priorities for the next two years in his state budget proposal that will be released early next year.
WMC stating publicly what it wants may give a good signal as to what direction Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature will go.
Passing a right-to-work law was the first issue Bauer listed as a priority.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said last week that he wanted to take up the issue early next year, while Walker has repeatedly said he would rather the Legislature avoid the issue and instead focus on his priorities. But he's also not promised to veto a right-to-work bill should it pass.
Other WMC priorities include reducing workers compensation costs, boosting worker training programs, aligning the state and federal versions of the Family Medical Leave Act, and enacting frack sand mining regulations that benefit the industry.
Republican legislative leaders were noncommittal about the priorities listed by WMC, while Democrats were critical of right-to-work laws and eliminating the higher income tax bracket for the wealthy.
Incoming Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said that given the looming $2.2 billion budget shortfall, the Legislature should be focused on finding ways to create jobs and strengthen communities, not creating economic uncertainty by pursuing a right-to-work law.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP