Veterans groups are rising up against what they consider a “shameful” move by Republican state lawmakers to strap limits on a popular tax credit for 100 percent disabled veterans and surviving spouses.
A spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that he wants the Legislature to “fix the issue.”
The Legislature’s budget committee added the restrictions as part of a tax bill it passed last week.
“Apparently, some Joint Finance Committee members feel the sacrifices made by severely wounded, injured and ill veterans are just another budget item,” said Al LaBelle, legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans of Wisconsin. “Balancing the budget on the backs of these severely injured heroes is shameful.”
The limits were introduced by committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and passed 12-4 on a party-line vote, said Rick Olin, a fiscal analyst for the Legislative Fiscal Bureau who provided the panel with alternatives for changing the credit.
Darling didn’t return phone calls seeking comments, but a Nygren spokeswoman said the limits would protect the tax credits.
“This credit was one of the fastest growing appropriations in the last five years,” Nygren spokeswoman Jennifer Malcore said. “The goal of the committee was to make sure that funds will be available to veterans living on a limited income.”
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.
The committee’s plan would expand the credit to include more surviving spouses, as proposed by Walker, but place a $2,500 cap on each credit, while reducing credits to claimants whose adjusted gross income was more than $75,000 for married filing jointly and $50,000 for single filers.
The average credit stayed just under $3,000 each year since 2007, the fiscal bureau reported.
But 129 recipients with adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or more received credits averaging $4,952, the fiscal bureau said. Of those, 47 have incomes of more than $150,000, and their credits averaged $6,290.
Many people don’t understand that a 100 percent disability doesn’t mean a veteran can’t work, said Richard Marbes, who is rated fully disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and receives disability benefit payments from the federal government.
“I lost my right leg in the Air Force,” said Marbes, 75, a former secretary-treasurer of the state Disabled American Veterans chapter.
Marbes said his leg was injured and then became cancerous. Amputation at the hip led to heart problems and other ailments. After he was medically retired from the military in 1958 he worked nearly 20 years as a graphic designer for a company in DePere, he said.
Without the tax credit of about $3,000 a year, it would have been harder to make ends meet, Marbes said.
Under current law, the credits would cost nearly $24 million annually over the next two years. Walker’s proposal to expand eligibility would add $9.5 million in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the fiscal bureau reported.
The committee changes would reduce two-year costs by $20.8 million compared to the governor’s plan, the bureau said. To become law, the committee plan must pass the Assembly and the Senate and then be signed by the governor, who may veto any part of it.
Veterans groups plan to lobby hard.
“The governor has been a good friend to the veterans community and we’re hoping that he’s going to stand with us when the time comes,” said David Kurtz, adjutant of the American Legion of Wisconsin.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said, “Governor Walker hopes the Legislature will fix the issue, but will review the budget in its entirety when it gets to his desk.”