Tax rebate

Requests for Gov. Scott Walker’s $100 child tax rebate have exceeded 200,000 in just three days after registration opened.

The state Department of Revenue’s website said 230,424 people had registered to receive the per-child payment by Friday morning, available to Wisconsin taxpayers with dependent children. 

Walker, who is seeking his third term, signed the rebate into law last month along with a five-day tax holiday from Aug. 1-5. The rebate, expected to cost $137 million, is an unprecedented move, which the Republican governor said was made by a nearly $400 million budget surplus.

Revenue spokeswoman Patty Mayers said it was difficult to anticipate the volume of the response. 

“It was really hard to know what to expect, as it is new,” she said in an email.

So far, she said, registration has gone off without a hitch.

"The website was designed to handle volume," she said, "and it's been working well."

There are about 670,000 eligible claimants in the state, she said, more than a third of whom had registered for the payment by Friday morning.

Wisconsin families with dependent children under 18 as of Dec. 31, 2017, and who are U.S. citizens are eligible for the payment. About 1.2 million children are estimated to qualify.

Claims can be made on the Department of Revenue’s website — childtaxrebate.wi.gov — or by calling 608-266-5437 between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Mayers said enough customer service agents are on hand to keep wait times for callers minimal.

The application window opened on Tuesday and will run through July 2. The credit can be paid through direct deposit to a bank account or a mailed check.

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Those receiving the credit must include it as income on their 2018 federal tax return if they included sales taxes on their itemized deductions on their 2017 return. They don’t have to include the rebate on their 2018 state return and can subtract it from the state return if they claim it on their federal return.

Walker has been selling the rebate as a product of sound fiscal management.

“A couple hundred dollars more in the family budget could really make a difference, particularly when getting ready for the next school year,” Walker said in a news release. “We are giving this money back to the hardworking taxpayers because it is their money to begin with.”

Democrats have characterized it as an election-year bribe.

“It's literally a guy saying, 'I'm Scott Walker running for re-election, have some money!"' Mandela Barnes, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, told the Washington Post. “Everyone I've talked to sees it as a blatant payoff.”

The measure has also drawn scrutiny from some conservatives.

“This is definitely odd and unique. I haven’t seen anything like it before,” Scott Drenkard of the right-leaning Tax Foundation told the Post. “It’s political catnip, but it’s hard to see how it improves economic outcomes.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.