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Wisconsin Among Worst for Business Taxes, State Contemplates Circus Bailout

Wisconsin led the nation in collective bargaining reform for public employees in 2011, but the state’s current tax and regulatory climate led the Tax Foundation to recently declare Wisconsin among the worst in the country for business taxes. But while lawmakers mull over how best to reduce taxes and streamline regulations, they are being asked by one state agency to spend $3.7 million on a circus museum.

Yes, Wisconsin taxpayers may have to spend millions of dollars to bailout a cash-strapped circus museum.

The proposed state budget under consideration by lawmakers is the largest in the state’s history. Included in its various proposals are provisions that would add 710 new employees to state government. That’s a jumbo-jet and a half of new state workers complete with pensions and health care plans financed by taxpayers. Hardly a small irony after Governor Scott Walker balanced his first budget in 2011 by forcing state workers to contribute more to their health insurance and pension plans.

Ten of those new state employees would be individuals who would run the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Baraboo is a relatively small town located north of Madison. Once home to the famed Ringling Brother’s Circus, it is now home to the private Circus World Museum.

According to internal documents obtained by Media Trackers, a conservative watchdog organization, the museum has been struggling financially in recent years and the number of visitors it attracts has been in decline since the museum’s peak period in the 1970s.

The Wisconsin Historical Society, a state agency, thinks the solution is to have a taxpayer bailout and takeover of the museum. Under their plan, the museum would become part of their agency and its budget would become part of the state budget with taxpayers assuming all financial responsibility for the old museum. The agency is actively lobbying lawmakers to do just that.

Wisconsin earned a reputation in 2011 as a state where government reform is sometimes contentious, but conservatives are willing to do what it takes. With so much work yet to be done to overcome the problems pointed out by the Tax Foundation, lawmakers could be hard pressed to find ways to cut taxes and still spend taxpayer money on a circus museum.

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