Madison mother Alisha Steele, 43, says her family will probably apply for the tax rebate Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature agreed to dole out in the months leading up to what is expected to be a difficult election for him and other Republicans this November.
But “I have really mixed feelings about it because, sure I’ll probably apply to get $200 for my two kids, but it feels” — and here she pauses — “dirty.”
On the first day parents of children under 18 years old could apply for the credit, some in a part of the state known for its liberalism in general and antipathy toward Walker in particular expressed similar reservations, while acknowledging that a hundred bucks — or 200 or 300 or 400 — is still real money.
“My husband’s perspective was, like, he rolled his eyes about it,” said mother-of-three Katie Crokus, 39, of Verona. “He’s like, we’ll take it. ... But isn’t that money better spent? I mean it’s $300 — we could probably apply it to myriad of other things that would be more valuable to the state.”
Walker scheduled events in Green Bay and Sussex last Tuesday to announce the start of the rebate’s online application period, which runs through July 2, and he was in Wausau and Onalaska on Thursday. Department of Revenue communications director Patty Mayers also said postcards about the rebate are being sent to eligible families, groups and associations are getting information to share with members, and lawmakers and other state agencies are getting the word out.
Nevertheless, it seemed clear last week there were plenty of parents who didn’t know or knew relatively little about the rebate.
Annie Le, 28, and Tomoko Stillar, 35, were among them. Le, a stay-at-home mom who was visiting East Towne Mall with her 11-month-old daughter, admitted she doesn’t pay much attention to the news. Stillar, who has two toddler-age daughters, said she works one day a week and considers her family lower-income while her husband completes his doctorate at UW-Madison.
Told of the rebate, both expressed interested in applying.
As did 28-year-old Crystal Hunter, 28, an unemployed mother of four. At the Goodman Library on Madison’s South Side, she said last week she’d only heard a little about the rebate from a friend, but planned to speak with her county case worker about it later. “That would be something I would have to look into,” she said. “I really can (use $400) — like right now.”
Democrats assailed the rebate as an election-year ploy to juice turnout for Walker and other Republicans as Walker seeks a third term in midterm elections that are usually tough for the party in the White House — even when that party’s president isn’t a figure as polarizing as Donald Trump. It wasn’t clear, though, if Democratic scorn for the idea of the rebate was translating into Democratic scorn for the reality of the rebate.
Madison-area Democratic representatives Diane Hesselbein and Chris Taylor, both of whom have children who would presumably qualify for the rebate, did not respond when asked whether they would seek the money. Nor did Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh, who has a daughter.
But Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, was willing to put her money where her mouth is — or not, as the case may be.
Sargent’s legislative aide, Britt Cudaback, said the mother of four considers the rebate a “last-ditch effort to buy votes in advance of his upcoming bid for re-election,” that it doesn’t help older adults or those without children, and “pales in comparison” to the $3 billion state incentives package Walker and other Republicans approved to lure the Foxconn LCD-panel manufacturing plant to Mount Pleasant.
“For these reasons, although she is eligible for the tax credit, she will not be applying to receive it,” Cudaback said.
Nicole Maxwell, 43, who has one child under 18, had feelings similar to Sargent’s.
“We probably won’t apply for it,” she said. “This is already money that’s collected and I think I’d rather see it go toward public good than toward what seems more like pandering.
“There are a lot of things in Wisconsin that could be done to help kids as a whole rather than just indiscriminately saying, ‘Hey, you want a hundred dollars? Here you go.’ ”
Damis Newman, 37, said she already gets child tax credits from the federal government and that she’d have to do more research before applying for the state rebate for her two children, ages 13 and 3.
“It’s like one of those things it sounds like maybe you could use 200 extra dollars to sign your kid up for a summer camp or something, but where does that money come from?” she said.
If the rebate is a ploy to buy votes, there were indications Tuesday that Wisconsin voters are sophisticated enough to see though it.
Made aware of the rebate for the first time, Evita Deupree, 24, of Janesville, said she’s likely to apply for it for her 5- and 3-year-old daughters.
“I don’t see why I wouldn’t,” she said while visiting West Towne Mall with her daughters and mother, Carita, and yet “from what I’ve heard, I’m not very fond of (Walker).”
Carita Deupree, 47, also of Janesville, described the rebate as “not straight-out bribery,” and said if she had children young enough to qualify, she’d apply for it, “as long as I’m not locked in to vote for him.”
Other Madison parents were not quite that harsh.
Lindsey Lee, 52, has two children under the age of 18 and describes himself as a “progressive Democrat.” He called the rebate “a progressive tax return because while $100 might not seem like much to high earners, it is a lot to those on the lower end of the income scale.”
“I get why the governor wants the political mileage by delivering it this way,” he said. “But it has to be acknowledged that he is doing so by having taxpayers surely pay extra for the costs of doing it separate from the normal spring tax reporting and refund system.”
Shannon Hattenhauer, 37, has three children ages 9 and under and also was just hearing about the rebate, which she emphasized should be “equitable.”
“I guess I’m not opposed to it as long as everyone knows to apply for it,” she said, but “I feel like a good subset of the population probably is not aware of this.”
At Wingra Park on Madison’s Near West Side, Melissa Haig, 40, said she and her husband would probably apply for the rebates for three children, ages 14, 11 and 1. Asked if she was a Walker supporter, she said, “Not so much.”
“We were kind of half-jokingly deciding if it was selling our soul to the devil to take it,” she said. “But it would seem foolish not to” and “we can put that to good use.”