Wisconsin Voters Aren't Enthusiastic About Republican Tax Bill
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
It is about 800 miles from Madison, Wis., to Washington, D.C. But what voters in Wisconsin think of the tax bill could have real implications for next year's midterm elections. It's the home state of House Speaker Paul Ryan. It also narrowly voted for President Trump last year. Wisconsin Public Radio's Laurel White reports that voters in the swing state are not too enthusiastic about the Republican tax proposal.
LAUREL WHITE, BYLINE: People are doing some holiday shopping at Anthology, a little store on State Street in downtown Madison, a liberal college town.
LAURA KOMAI: Thanks so much.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you.
WHITE: Laura Komai owns the store with her sister. She says tax rates aren't that important to her as a business owner.
KOMAI: There's such a big piece that's growing the business that has nothing to do with the taxes. It has to do with the well-being of our customers.
WHITE: Komai says she's worried a tax break for her will mean cuts to government spending that would hurt her community.
KOMAI: So it sort of seems counterproductive to say we're giving you a tax break because it's undermining the public schools and, you know, this - the community that we live in.
WHITE: One of the people who might pay for those tax cuts for Komai's business is Josephine Lukito. She's a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin. In the House tax bill, there's a provision to make grad students like Lukito pay taxes on the free tuition that's part of their financial aid.
JOSEPHINE LUKITO: If I had to be taxed on that, my taxes would effectively triple.
WHITE: Taxing that free tuition is one of the ways Republicans are offsetting the cost of their tax cuts. If the proposal survives, Lukito says she won't be able to afford her rent. And...
LUKITO: It means I might not be able to finish my Ph.D.
WHITE: Down the road from Madison is Paul Ryan's hometown of Janesville. Joni Bozart has owned Carousel Consignments on Main Street with her husband for almost 30 years.
JONI BOZART: How you doing today? You need a cup of coffee while you're shopping?
WHITE: Bozart greets a lot of her customers by name. One of her regulars is Bob Coon. He's a Republican but is uncertain about the tax bill.
BOB COON: I don't think it's going to make much change for me.
WHITE: Coon does think Paul Ryan is trying to help out small businesses like this one.
COON: He's a man that believes in equality for people and tries to do his best I think to make it good for everyone.
WHITE: But Bozart says the tax bill doesn't help her biggest business concern, a spike in health insurance premiums.
BOZART: When you're looking at a 50 percent increase for our health care program next year, that's the No. 1 issue. Taxes are not on the front of our worry list right now.
WHITE: In fact, the Senate tax bill could increase those premiums by getting rid of the individual mandate to buy health insurance. And Bozart has no plans to go without insurance. Even some people who think their taxes will go down aren't enthusiastic. Luke Fuszard in Middleton, Wis., works for a health care startup.
LUKE FUSZARD: I think we'll actually probably come out better as a whole on this tax plan.
WHITE: But Fuszard is worried about losing tax deductions for interest on student loans and mortgage payments.
FUSZARD: And so there are a lot of people that, you know, we are friends with that are in our - kind of our immediate circle that, you know, a bystander on the street would look - wow, they've got it pretty great but are very, very worried.
WHITE: Fuszard says his biggest concern is that the tax cuts would increase the national debt. He's worried that would mean his two kids could have trouble paying for college or finding good jobs. Fuszard says some things are worth paying higher taxes for. For NPR News, I'm Laurel White in Madison.
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