Wisconsin Restaurant Association

Candidate Questionnaire

Susan Quam

For more information, contact:

Susan Quam | Executive Vice President


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 new equipment and supporting Wisconsin based equipment 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 equipment 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.

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.

Do you feel Wisconsin alcohol laws need to be revised?

Do you feel Wisconsin alcohol laws need to be better enforced?

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, $7 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.

Should we increase our tourism budget to be more competitive with Mich. and Ill.?

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 2019?

Do you support the current law allowing the tip credit?

5. Transportation Funding:

Waning fuel tax revenues and other factors have led to perennial shortfalls in the transportation budget. As a result, road maintenance and improvement projects around the state have been delayed and our infrastructure is deteriorating. 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 tolling. 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. Cottage Foods:

“Cottage foods” are foods produced for public consumption in home kitchens or other unlicensed facilities. Recent court rulings have opened up the flood gates to allow baked goods from home kitchens to be sold directly to the public with no licensing, no restrictions on sales and no food safety requirements. WRA is adamantly opposed to this practice because it puts the public at risk and the foodservice industry at risk. The public can contract dangerous foodborne pathogens from food that is not produced in a safe facility and not handled properly. There is a legitimate reason why home kitchens have not been allowed to be used to commercially produce food sold to the public (until the recent court ruling). For example, licensed commercial kitchens will never allow pets with dirty paws or kids with dirty hands in the kitchen where food is produced. In home kitchens, however, this is how a family lives their daily lives. A restaurant kitchen needs to be inspected and licensed and there is a cost to compliance. Every business owner in the industry accepts that cost as a part of doing business and protecting the public health. It is unfair to allow the cottage foods industry to compete with licensed restaurants and bakeries without being subjected to the same standards of safety and accompanying costs. 

Will you support legislation establishing minimum food safety and sales standards regarding how baked goods from home kitchens can be sold to the public?

7. 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. 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.

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

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.

What are your thoughts on improving bipartisan relations?

9. Workforce:

The restaurant industry is severely short staffed in all positions—entry level and management. Most restaurants have had to cut hours of operation or in some cases, close their doors. In addition, increased labor costs are forcing price hikes that consumers have a hard time understanding, putting further pressure on already thin profit margins. With fewer people available in the workforce and a reduction in immigration, Wisconsin’s legendary restaurant and supper club culture is in jeopardy.

What would you do to help increase the number of people in Wisconsin’s workforce?

What is your stance on immigration?

How would you attract more workers to Wisconsin?

10. 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?