Republicans in the Legislature remain divided over the best proposal to regulate taxes, including the controversial Taxpayer Protection Amendment.
With the session that began Tuesday, the Legislature is expected to discuss TPA and its two alternative proposals, Tax Relief Today — introduced by Sens. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, and Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire — and the most recent proposal drafted by Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington.
Gottlieb introduced his tax relief proposal last week in an effort to strike a compromise between TPA and Tax Relief Today.
"It's actually quite a different approach," Gottlieb spokesperson Denise Solie said.
Solie added that while TPA is based on a change in the consumer price index, Gottlieb's new proposal deals with a change in the "growth of personal income number."
According to Solie, the consumer price index is determined by the government and does not reflect any number in the real world. She noted it is supposed to measure how the marketplace is doing in terms of housing, energy and food costs.
"These are goods the government does not buy and therefore [it] is impossible to calculate exactly," Solie said, addressing the problem with TPA.
Gottlieb's proposal would use a three-year rolling average, which, in the case of an economically devastating event such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would provide for cut-backs in spending to compensate.
"Gottlieb's proposal includes an emergency reserve fund and a budget stabilization fund designed to have certain reserves in years when revenues don't come in the way you would like them — to have a cushion for bad times made from the good years," Solie said.
While TPA has not gone over well with a number of Democrats in the Legislature, including Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, the two alternatives have not fared any better.
"I think the whole concept is a bad idea," Black said. "Our job as a Legislature is to budget and not to pass off responsibility."
Black also noted that it is difficult to take a tax relief amendment seriously because there is such disagreement among Republicans over which version to endorse.
"Every day we get a new version. Changing the Constitution — a fundamental document — should not be done lightly," Black added. "The fact that there is a new version floating around every day should be a clue as to its misguided efforts."
He also said that because a tax relief amendment essentially decreases funding for the university, it could lead to massive tuition increases in the state's university system.
"I think you'll find the Democrats are united in their opposition to this poorly sought out effort to change the Constitution," Black said.
As Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree over the merits of a taxpayer protection amendment, floor debate over the proposed measures is expected to officially begin soon.
According to Solie, the Legislature is scheduled to take up debate over the three initiatives Thursday in session.
"There is still negotiating going on to try to see whether there are votes for any version of a taxpayer protection amendment," Solie said. "There are some people who want to see a strong version and some who want to maintain flexibility."
But Gov. Jim Doyle, who opposes TPA, has expressed disapproval of any constitutional amendment — flexible or not.
"This is bad policy, some of these amendments are almost longer than the state Constitution itself," Doyle's spokesman Matt Canter said. "The governor made deep and difficult cuts to the size of government all without raising taxes. This is the way you cut the size of government, with fiscal responsibility."
Democrats and Republicans alike will discuss and potentially take action on all three proposals, as session continues until May 4.