Gov. Scott Walker plans to veto a part of the state budget that would have changed the way chewing cigarettes products are taxed.
Public health groups lobbied Walker to veto the change saying it would have made chewing tobacco cheaper and more attractive to children. More than a dozen groups, including the American Cancer Society and the Wisconsin Medical Society, sent Walker a letter Thursday asking him to undo the change made by the Legislature's budget committee.
Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie released details of the planned veto to The Associated Press on Friday, saying in a statement that Walker made his decision after hearing from the various groups opposed to the tax change. Walker plans to sign the budget and announce other vetoes Sunday in Green Bay.
"Today is a victory for Wisconsin kids, their parents and all Wisconsin taxpayers," said Gail Sumi, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society.
Philip Morris USA spokesman Bill Phelps expressed disappointment with the governor's decision, saying a bipartisan group of lawmakers agreed to the tax change, and its veto will do nothing to stop young people from illegally using tobacco.
The change would have taxed smokeless tobacco products based on their weight rather than their price. The current price-based system ensures all such products are taxed equally and allows the tax to increase for inflation. Those opposed to the tax change also argued tobacco manufacturers can manipulate their products' weight to minimize taxation.
The veto will not affect the amount of money coming into the state.
Werwie also detailed two other planned vetoes — one on a portion of the budget that would have allowed fired Milwaukee police officers to keep being paid while appealing their termination and another removing a property tax exemption for a Presbyterian student center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
The Legislature's budget committee added the provision on police officers to change the law back to how it was before 2008, when the first steps were taken to stop paying fired officers.
Werwie said the governor wants to see that change debated as a separate issue in the Legislature, not approved as part of the budget. The governor would decide at that point whether to approve the change or not, he said.
Budget committee co-chair Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement that he believed a compromise on the issue could be reached in the fall when the Legislature is slated to be back in session.
The property tax exemption for the Presbyterian student center, which includes 51 apartments, has been a frequent issue in the Legislature and the subject of heavy lobbying after it was removed by the budget committee. Werwie, in explaining the veto, would say only that Walker thought the housing unit should be tax exempt.
Walker has been under pressure from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, advocates for various issues, lobbyists, local office holders and others to make a host of changes to the $66 billion budget passed by the Legislature last week.
The governor was forced earlier Friday to change the location of the budget bill signing after the chief executive officer of the company where it was going to be held told Walker that he spent three months in prison on eight felony tax evasion charges in the 1990s.
Walker switched locations for the signing from Badger Sheet Metal Works to Fox Valley Metal-Tech, Inc., also in Green Bay. Badger Sheet Metal Works executive Gregory A. DeCaster notified Walker's office Friday morning of his convictions and the governor's office announced hours later it had changed plans.