Historic Tax Credits are good for Wisconsin

On behalf of our nearly 600-strong city and village members of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, I applaud Gov. Scott Walker lifting the moratorium on the Historic Preservation Tax Credit on buildings certified by the State Historical Society and the National Park Service as “Historic.”

We are aware that the moratorium remains in place for the new tax credit created by Act 62 for rehabilitating pre-1936 buildings not certified as “historic,” but the governor’s decision is an extremely positive step forward.

Governor Walker’s announcement aligns with Wisconsin’s long and rich tradition of preserving its past. Wisconsinites have long understood that beautifying and rehabilitating historic downtown buildings throughout Wisconsin not only helps keep our heritage alive, but also puts money into our economy, assists with job creation, and helps promote tourism, and a host of other positive economic factors for communities throughout Wisconsin.

Earlier this year, and with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Wisconsin Legislature passed and Governor Walker signed Wisconsin Act 62, which doubled the tax credit for rehabilitating historic buildings. That simple law change made Wisconsin’s historic tax credit comparable to that of Minnesota and other states.

In no time at all, historic property owners and local communities lined up with downtown revitalization projects. Creative projects, large and small, from all corners of Wisconsin applied for the credit. From Ashland to Racine, Green Bay to La Crosse, communities throughout Wisconsin created plans to make their hometowns better. In many cases, these were valuable projects that community leaders had been talking about for years, but were not financially-feasible until now.

In the first six months of the tax credit’s availability, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has seen requests in excess of $35 million in tax credits, representing more than $180 million in building revitalization. The revitalization of buildings throughout Wisconsin also means job creation. Roughly $90 million in good-paying construction jobs and another $90 million of building materials and product finishes would be put into Wisconsin’s economy. (Keep in mind that Wisconsin is a leading manufacturer of building materials.) These first projects alone will generate $9 million in sales and income taxes during construction and over $3 million in local property tax revenue every year.

Demand for the credits exceeded the state’s expectations nine times over. There was so much demand that the program had been temporarily put on hold while WEDC recalculated the impact on the state budget. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities supported the temporary halt, but we urged the state to reinstate the program as quickly as possible for the good of communities throughout Wisconsin.

It’s more than just the dollars and cents. In nearly every case, the buildings being brought back into service are at the center of a community, or are the cornerstone of an exciting local economic expansion. Wisconsin’s main streets are experiencing a rebirth and renewed interest from both residents and business proprietors. In many cases, those property owners are looking for ways to reuse existing structures. These buildings, which by definition were an important part of a community’s history, are becoming productive elements of its future.
Wisconsin’s cities and villages are the home to 70-percent of the state’s population, 87-percent of all manufacturing property and 89-percent of all commercial property. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the Urban Alliance were established to help those communities thrive, prosper and grow, that is why we so strongly support Act 62 and thank Governor Walker in lifting the moratorium on these job creating funds.

Jerry Deschane is the newly appointed executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities is comprised of 190 cities and 396 villages, and represents the interests of its member municipalities.

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