The Legislature should not delegate taxing responsibility and authority to an industry association

By David Fladeboe for the Badger Institute

It’s not unusual as a legislative session comes to an end for a handful of questionable bills to advance below the radar. This session is no exception.

Three weeks ago, the Wisconsin Assembly quickly and quietly passed a bill that would allow a private group to set and apply a tax on propane sales. This would set a dangerous precedent, and the measure should be stopped by the state Senate.

Assembly Bill 665, introduced by Rep. Kevin Petersen (R-Waupaca) and Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), allows the Wisconsin Propane Education and Research Council (WIPERC) to apply a tax on propane sales with proceeds ending up in the council’s own coffers.

A two-tenths of one cent per-gallon tax on propane might not seem like a big deal, but when a consumer has to purchase hundreds of gallons to keep the heat on in the winter, it adds up. The result could be millions of dollars out of the pockets of Wisconsin taxpayers with authority on how to spend the money removed from their elected representatives.

WIPERC no doubt made the case that it will use the resources to make Wisconsin a better and safer place. According to the council’s website, it provides employee safety and training to propane marketers in the state — clearly an important role.

But WIPERC is already a membership dues-paying organization; surely there are other ways for the council to fund the important services it provides to its members. The Legislature need not — indeed, should not — delegate taxing responsibility and authority to an association to ensure the propane delivery system is safe.

Worse yet, the bill doesn’t specify how the money is to be used. The bill is, effectively, a blank check to WIPERC, and neither taxpayers nor consumers will have any say in how the tax dollars are spent.

Thankfully, the Senate still has time to fully consider the ramifications of this bill. Senators should take this opportunity to stand up for the taxpayers of Wisconsin, oppose a stealth tax increase and leave the taxing authority in the hands of officials who are ultimately accountable to Wisconsin voters.

David Fladeboe is public affairs associate for the Badger Institute. Reposted with permission.