MADISON, Wis. — Assembly Republican priorities for the 2017 legislative session include providing a laptop computer for every incoming high school student, continuing a University of Wisconsin System tuition freeze and instituting a back-to-school sales tax holiday, they said Wednesday.
Nine weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, leaders of the GOP-controlled Assembly outlined their wants at a news conference. Republicans hold a 63-36 majority in the Assembly and are expected to retain control.
Much of their agenda, as outlined in a 30-page document, is broad and contains long-held GOP positions and proposals. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he didn’t know what the first bill to be introduced, which is seen as a top priority for the session, would be. The session begins in January.
There were some new ideas — like the laptops and passing a law to permit driverless vehicles on the road — while old ideas saw renewed attention.
Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca, who listened to the nearly hour-long presentation at the back of the room, said: “It was probably the longest press conference in history with the least amount of new ideas brought forward.”
Republicans have previously proposed a sales tax holiday on back-to-school purchases, but the idea received a boost Wednesday when Gov. Scott Walker got behind it. He said his budget, which will be released early next year, would call for waiving state and local sales taxes on the first weekend of August 2017 and 2018 on school supplies, computers costing less than $750 and clothing items costing less than $75 each.
Vos was pressed for details on how Republicans planned to address one of the largest issues awaiting the Legislature: plugging a nearly $1 billion transportation budget shortfall.
“We know there is no magic bullet,” Vos said.
All options remain in consideration, Vos said, such as raising the gas tax and vehicle fees or instituting toll roads on heavily traveled interstates, something that would need federal approval and would likely take years to institute.
Walker has been outspoken in saying he does not support raising the gas tax or fees without an equal reduction in taxes elsewhere. And Republican state Sen. Duey Stroebel recently wrote a column against raising the gas tax, saying “this is no time to be campaigning for higher taxes.”
Vos wouldn’t say how much borrowing Assembly Republicans would allow. Instead, he said the emphasis is on finding ways to save money. Ideas floated in their agenda include naming rights, using low-cost drones for inspection of projects and advertising and sponsorship opportunities.
On education, Vos said he favors continuing the UW tuition freeze for another two years. It’s been in place for four years already and UW leaders have said they would prefer it continue for only one more year. Vos also said he would be open to a slight tuition increase in the second year, perhaps tied to the consumer price index.
On the laptop proposal, Vos said income would not be a factor in doling them out, and Republicans also plan to explore ways to make the internet more available, including using school buses as hot spots.
Other priorities include:
— Making a marijuana derivative, known as CBD oil, accessible to treat seizure disorders. The Legislature legalized cannabidiol oil in 2014, but no one has been able to legally access it because of various state and federal law hurdles.
— Passing a “Blue Lives Matter” bill that increases penalties for crimes against police officers.
— Eliminating the position of state treasurer.
— Requiring first-time drunken drivers to appear in court.