Wisconsin Restaurant Association

Candidate Questionnaire

Susan Quam

For more information, contact:

Susan Quam | Executive Vice President

squam@wirestaurant.org

Restaurants are the cornerstones of their communities. Whether they are an independent brand or locally owned franchisees of a larger brand, restaurants not only provide people with safe, well-prepared food – they provide places for the community to gather to celebrate, mourn or just to see friends. Restaurants are the first businesses to help in times of crisis and they are often tapped to host fundraisers and donate to local charities. One in nine people are employed in Wisconsin’s restaurant industry – and one in three people’s first job is in a restaurant.  A thriving restaurant industry is vital to Wisconsin’s economic success.  The following issues are short and long term priorities of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association to ensure Wisconsin’s restaurants can not only survive the current economic crisis caused by COVID-19, but ensure long term viability.

1. Personal Property Tax:

Personal property tax (PPT) is paid by businesses on their annual property tax bills.  Items that are not real property, such as furniture and office equipment, are itemized and property tax is paid on its depreciated value.  Year after year, the tax is paid on the value of items for which sales tax was already paid when they were purchased. This method of taxation discourages restaurants from investing in their restaurants and supporting Wisconsin based manufacturers and suppliers. There are many carve outs and exemptions for various industries and WRA members believe it is unfair that they pay this tax on their furniture and fixtures, when business owners in other major industries do not.  The tax is made even more inconsistent because it is applied differently in different municipalities. 

The 2017-18 Budget Bill gave restaurants and other small businesses some PPT relief by exempting “machinery, tools and patterns” in Schedule C of the PPT form and backfilling the lost revenue to municipalities. However, municipal assessors are balking at honoring the legislature’s intent in exempting pieces of machinery, especially restaurant related items that meet the machinery definition. WRA members believe it’s long overdue to level the playing field for all Wisconsin businesses and eliminate PPT. This move would put $200 million back into the hands of business owners, which would stimulate reinvestment into their businesses.  We know that COVID-19 will place many strains on state and local budgets – however the restaurant and hospitality industry has been hit economically harder than most and continuing to pay this onerous tax does not help operators stay in business.

 

Would you vote to eliminate the rest of the PPT in the next biennium?

Would you vote to phase out the rest of PPT over a number of years?

Would you agree to eliminate the rest of PPT if local revenue losses were backfilled by the State?

2. Alcohol Laws:

The WRA represents over 7,000 locations, most of which have licenses to serve alcohol. Over the years, many carve outs and grandfather clauses have made Wisconsin alcohol laws difficult to navigate and some of our members believe they are unfriendly to entrepreneurship and hamper their own business growth. Wisconsin consumer demands are changing and restaurants and other establishments with alcohol licenses are trying to accommodate their customers.  Legislators will continue to have constituents (manufacturers, wholesalers, retail establishments and consumers) demand revisions to the laws or demand the laws stay the same. This unfortunately pits members of the hospitality industry against each other as each segment of the industry weighs in on changes to alcohol laws. Looking at ways to accommodate growth, encourage entrepreneurship and level the playing field for our members is a high priority for WRA.

Most states, including Michigan and Illinois, now allow the delivery of packaged alcohol with food deliveries. Even before COVID-19 Safer at Home orders, consumers were increasingly ordering restaurant food to eat at home. National Restaurant Association research shows that many of these customers would like to be able to order beer, wine and/or spirits to be delivered with their food. Research also shows that people are drinking less in restaurants and bars when they do go out. The loss of on-premise alcohol sales drastically reduces profitability for table service restaurants. The current pandemic has only exacerbated this loss of revenue and consumers do not understand why in the world Wisconsin law does not allow a six pack of beer or bottle of wine to be delivered with their dinner order. Once stay at home orders went into place across the country more states have permanently allowed the delivery of alcohol with food orders and now some even allow for the safe delivery of mixed drinks. Many restaurant customers are demanding the ability to take home a container of their favorite margarita or Old Fashioned and again are disappointed to find they cannot do so in Wisconsin.  Preventing the safe delivery of alcohol does not protect Wisconsin restaurants and taverns – it prevents them from meeting customer demands and surviving in a challenging economic environment.

 

Will you support a bill to allow for the safe delivery of packaged alcohol with food deliveries?

Will you support a bill to allow for carryout/delivery of mixed drinks?

3. Tourism Promotion:

The Department of Tourism has an annual budget of about $15.5 million to spend on promoting Wisconsin to potential tourists in key markets, like Chicagoland, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.  In terms of real dollars, this is less than we were spending at the end of the Thompson Administration, and also less than many of our neighboring states are spending to compete with us.  For every $1 the Department spent on advertising last year, $8 was returned to the state in additional tax revenue. The tourism economy generated $1.5 billion in state and local revenue and $1.2 billion in federal taxes. Without tourism, each Wisconsin household would pay an additional $660 to maintain existing services.   Though it actually generates new tax revenue, the hospitality industry has to fight to maintain tourism funding in every budget bill because it is funded with GPR dollars.

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, urging people to safely travel and support tourism businesses and communities will be even more important to Wisconsin’s economic recovery.

 

Should we increase our tourism budget to be more competitive with Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota?

4. Minimum Wage and the Tip Credit:

WRA believes that the labor market regulates wages on its own very effectively when government interference is kept to a minimum.  The minimum wage was created to be an entry level wage and to protect vulnerable workers, not to guarantee a “living wage” to all workers.  The “tip credit” is the mechanism that allows tipped employees to earn a lower base wage as long as their reported tips bring their earnings up to minimum wage or higher.  Since servers in Wisconsin typically make $10-$25 per hour in tips alone, this frees up resources to allow kitchen and other non-tipped staff to earn higher hourly wages.

 

Would you support a minimum wage increase in 2021?

Do you support the current law allowing the tip credit?

5. Transportation Funding:

Finding ways to fund transportation continues to be a contentious issue in Wisconsin.   WRA has a long-standing policy in support of highway maintenance and improvement projects that are needed to accommodate tourism and commerce and facilitate economic growth.  One funding mechanism we oppose, however, is traditional tolling – like Illinois.  How would you fix the Transportation Fund?

 

Do you support the establishment of toll roads?

Could you support a modest increase in fuel taxes?

Would you support an increase in vehicle registration fees?

6. September 1st School Start Date:

After more than a decade of debate in the Legislature during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a compromise was finally reached between those who want a post-Labor Day school start and those who want the flexibility to start the school year in mid-to-late August.  September 1st was that compromise.  In the hospitality industry, we count on the business generated by families who vacation in Wisconsin in July and August.  Families want to swim in Wisconsin lakes in the warm water of August, not in the cold water of early June, and many kids have summer school classes in June and team sporting events in July and early August.  In “normal” years, revenue from tourists is $300 million greater in August, compared to June.  If we have to trade a week in August for a week in June, our industry loses out on tens-of-millions of dollars, and thousands of young people lose out on a week of work during prime tourism season. As Wisconsin hopefully returns to a more “normal” summer tourism season in 2021, the September 1 start date will be even more important as the tourism industry works to recover.

 

Do you support the current September 1st School Start law?

7. State vs Local Control:

There are many issues where WRA believes that statewide laws and rules should be in place, rather than a patchwork of local orders and ordinances. This includes, but is not limited to setting the minimum wage, dictating predictive employee scheduling, limiting types of carryout packaging, banning plastic straws or local health department orders restricting businesses from operating.  When there is a patchwork of differing local laws and orders, it creates an unleveled playing field for all businesses.  As an example: In relation to COVID-19, a county restricts businesses to operating at 25 percent capacity and indoor gatherings of no more than 10. This causes people to move their events/weddings to outside the county to venues that are not as restricted. This creates economic hardship for the businesses located in the restricted county, even when they can prove they can safely operate and hold larger events.

8. Bipartisan Cooperation:

WRA members repeatedly express concern over the lack of cooperation between political parties at the state level.  Their desire for legislators to “work across the aisle” on issues and reduce discourse is strong.

9. One-third of American adults got their first job in a restaurant. Our industry employs 1 out of every 10 working Wisconsinites, more than any other industry.

Do you have experience working in, owning or managing a restaurant?

10. Misc:

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