Dave Armstrong

Housing, childcare, workforce development and tourism were among the legislative priorities Rep. Dave Armstrong mentioned in an interview Monday, Jan. 16.

Armstrong, R-Rice Lake, is in his second two-year term representing the 75th Assembly District, which includes all of Barron County and much of Washburn County.

Armstrong said he has already introduced one housing bill this session, and he expects to do more. He said that Rep. Rob Brooks, chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing and Real Estate, has asked Armstrong if he would re-introduce two housing bills that were not taken up last session.

“Republicans are going to make housing one of their big issues this session,” said Armstrong.

One of Armstrong’s bills seeks to increase Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority low income housing tax credits from $42 million to $100 million.

Armstrong is also looking at other ways to incentivize development of affordable housing, including homes classified as “workforce housing” in the $200,000 range.

Workforce housing is defined as housing that is affordable to households earning between 60% and 120% of an area’s median income.

Armstrong said access to housing and childcare are closely tied to attracting potential workers to places with open jobs.

He said he is also drafting a bill to create more tax credits for businesses that offer child care.

Armstrong said an aging population and low birth rates will continue to limit the pool of workers.

“Purely based on demographics we don’t have enough people,” he said.

Armstrong said it may take federal immigration reform to fill the gap.

“The feds are going to have to do something about immigration at some point,” he said.

Barron County is getting some workers, primarily Filipino, from abroad through a program that offers a Green Card and path to citizenship.

“They want to be here. They’re great workers, very-family oriented,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong, who is chair of the Assembly Committee on Rural Development, said that while demographics are a concern, the news isn’t all bad in rural communities. Many communities, including those in Barron County, gained residents, according to the U.S. Census.

“There’s been winners and losers in rural places. The question is why,” said Armstrong.

Communities with strong arts scenes and recreational opportunities are likely to be among the winners, he said.

A rural issue likely to be discussed this session is limiting local control over agricultural regulations.

Last year some towns approved ordinances limiting the size of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and requiring them to show how they will dispose of dead animals and avoid polluting groundwater.

Armstrong called these types of local regulations “onerous.”

The first bill introduced this session in the Assembly was a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMahieu for a 3.5 percent flat tax.

Armstrong said that the bill is essentially “dead,” but some type of tax reform is possible.

He mentioned sales tax as an area for reform, noting that Wisconsin has a lower sales tax than many surrounding states. He said he would like to see more sales tax revenue directed to municipalities—most goes to counties and the state—and to property tax relief.

Armstrong also said municipalities that have budgets “cut to the bone” should be eligible for more aid.

Armstrong said he did know how abortion would be dealt with this session, but did see some likelihood of action on legalized marijuana.

Armstrong, who said he is 35 years sober after substance abuse issues earlier in life, said he is opposed to full legalization of recreational marijuana. But he said he is open to medical marijuana reform, and said that would be more likely to pass than full legalization.