MADISON (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker’s administration on Monday partially lifted a moratorium in place only three weeks on a wildly popular tax credit program for historic buildings.
While the program will restart for buildings that meet criteria for being designated as historic, the moratorium will remain in effect for those that don’t have that certification, said Mark Maley, spokesman for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state’s lead job-creation agency.
“We want to focus on things that are truly historic,” Maley said.
The Legislature, with broad bipartisan support, doubled the size of the credit last year to 20 percent of rehabilitation costs and expanded the program to include non-historic buildings built before 1936. The Legislature did not place a cap on how many credits could be handed out.
The moratorium was put in place on June 23 because $35 million in tax breaks for qualified projects had already been approved, even though only $4 million were expected to be handed out in the first year.
Of that $35 million, $15 million went to non-historic buildings while $20 million went to those certified as historic, Maley said.
The tax credits for historic buildings far exceeded estimates, and “it’s going to continue to exceed it” now that the moratorium is being lifted, Maley said. Originally, WEDC said the moratorium would last through the end of the year.
The more credits that are claimed, the less tax revenue the state collects. But advocates for the program say it more than pays for itself through the economic development generated by the rehabilitation projects.
The decision to partially lift the moratorium came after discussions with developers, local officials and the state Historical Society, WEDC Secretary and CEO Reed Hall said.
The moratorium on buildings certified as historic can be lifted because of the “rigorous application process” required prior to seeking state credits, Hall told co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee in a letter Monday.
Walker, who is running for re-election this year, touted news of the program’s restart saying, “worthwhile projects can now move forward to help grow local economies and revitalize communities throughout our state.”
The decision drew bipartisan praise.
“We support that decision because of the direct impact it will have on local communities,” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee.
Rep. Peter Barca, the Democratic Assembly minority leader and a member of the WEDC board, said Walker had made a mistake to halt the program and was glad the governor is taking steps to reinstate it.
Hall told lawmakers that WEDC plans to consult with Walker, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the state Historical Society, and others to discuss possible changes to the program next year.
To inform that discussion, Hall said WEDC will be collecting additional details about projects receiving the tax breaks, including short- and long-term employment projections, local participation, and tax impact.
To earn the tax breaks, the property must be on the state or national register of historic places or be determined eligible by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Property located in a state- or nationally registered historic district and determined by the state to be historically significant or connected to a building may also qualify.