MADISON (AP) – Wisconsin’s chief jobs agency hit the pause button on a historic tax credit program this week because it’s proving to be more popular, and therefore more expensive, than predicted.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. notified co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee on Monday that the program would be put on hold for the rest of the year, while a review is undertaken. On Wednesday, the top-ranking Assembly Democrat expressed dismay and the move and asked WEDC to find a “creative solution” to keep the program running unabated.
With broad bipartisan support, the Legislature last year passed a bill that doubled the amount of eligible expenditures on qualified historic rehabilitation programs but did not place a cap on how many credits could be handed out each year.
Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law in December at the Hotel Northland in Green Bay, a 1920s-era hotel that was among the projects expected to benefit from the expanded tax credits but was not approved before the moratorium.
Just six months into the expanded program, WEDC’s secretary and CEO Reed Hall put it on hold while the agency comes up with a recommendation for the next two-year budget to be considered by the Legislature in 2015.
The Wisconsin Historical Society and Department of Revenue originally estimated that credits would hit $4 million in the first year. But Hall said in the letter to lawmakers that WEDC has already approved 29 projects that could qualify for $35 million in tax breaks.
“If fully realized, this amount of credits could potentially result in nearly $180 million in additional economic development in communities across the state,” Hall said in the letter. “While this is certainly a testament to the program’s success and need in Wisconsin, it also underscores the necessity to review the fiscal impact to the state budget.”
WEDC received applications for an additional three projects on Monday before the moratorium, and they may still be approved, said the agency’s vice president for marketing, Kelly Lietz.
Co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said in a joint statement that they were looking forward to discussing ways to make the credit viable.
“We are very pleased with the popularity of the historical tax credit,” Nygren and Darling said. “With the success of this credit, many jobs were created and historical buildings re-vamped.”
But Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca, who is a member of the WEDC board, said Wednesday that “it defies all logic that WEDC would put the brakes on a program that obviously will be tremendously successful.”
“In communities all around the state, we have near shovel-ready rehabilitation projects that will enhance the character of our communities while creating jobs,” Barca said in a statement.
Walker is for the moratorium, said spokeswoman Laurel Patrick.
Given high demand, putting a temporary halt to the program makes sense while the appropriate level of spending is studied for the next budget, she said.