MADISON (AP) - Veterans groups want the state Legislature to undo proposed limits on a popular property tax credit for disabled veterans and their spouses.
Gov. Scott Walker's spokesman Tom Evenson called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to "fix the issue," but lawmakers behind the change were not budging.
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee last week voted to put new limits on a state program that provides a refundable income tax credit for the property taxes paid on principal dwellings by veterans who are 100 percent disabled. The program also applies to their surviving spouses. Spouses of veterans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan also receive the credit if they don't remarry.
The budget as passed by the committee would limit the amount of property taxes to be reimbursed to $2,500 a year. The committee also created a mechanism to drop higher-income veterans and their spouses from the program.
Al LaBelle, legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans of Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin State Journal in a Thursday story that "Balancing the budget on the backs of these severely injured heroes is shameful."
But Republicans who voted for it were standing by the change.
"Our major concern was about making sure we could continue this with the people who really need it and making it consistent with other tax credit programs" that are income-based, Rep. John Nygren, a Republican co-chair of the budget committee, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Rep. Dale Kooyenga, a Republican member of the budget committee who voted for the change, said lawmakers made the changes to make the program fairer.
"Does it make sense to have a credit that could apply to a millionaire? You could have a million-dollar house but 100 percent of your property taxes would be paid by the state," said Kooyenga, a CPA and Army Reservist who served in Iraq.
But Jason Johns, legislative officer for the Wisconsin Military Order of the Purple Heart, said the $2,500 cap was problematic because property taxes vary widely throughout the state.
"The property tax refund when it was established was a big deal for everyone. Property taxes are pretty high in Wisconsin, and this was a benefit for veterans who need it the most," said Johns, who earned a Purple Heart when he was injured by a land mine in Iraq in 2003.
The state Assembly is scheduled to begin debate of the budget on Tuesday, with the Senate taking it as early as Thursday. Walker has said he wants to sign it by July 1.
In 2011, the most recent year for which numbers are available, 5,892 veterans and surviving spouses claimed $17.3 million in credits, up from 5,047 claimants and $14.9 million in 2010. In its first year, 2005, less than $1 million was collected by fewer than 500.
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