PRAT referendum passes: What’s next?

Voters approved advisory referendum Tuesday

La Crosse County voters say they want to move forward, looking more into the Premier Resort Area Tax to pay for road repairs.

Fifty-five percent of voters in La Crosse County approved of the advisory referendum Tuesday, which would create a new tourism-related tax 0.5 percent.

That would generate an estimated $6.6 million that would be used for road repairs, but the vote is far from the final say.

La Crosse County Board chair Tara Johnson said the voters have spoken.

“When the voters, by a 55 percent margin, support the idea of a of additional revenue for fixing roads, that tells me that voters in general — and across the county — realize that there is a need for more funding for roads,” Johnson said.

But the Premier Resort Area Tax, or PRAT, is far from final. The state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker must approve legislation.

“The legislation would need to say that La Crosse County should be granted a waiver to declare itself a premier resort area,” Johnson said.

State Rep. Steve Doyle, who also serves on La Crosse County’s board, is planning on introducing that legislation within the next month.

“First I want to meet with Governor Walker and assembly speaker Robin Vos to make sure I can get their support on this,” Doyle said. “Assuming they are supportive of this, I will introduce a bill that would have the various conditions that county had promised to the voters.”

The proposal would then return back to the county board.

“A two-thirds majority of the county board must need to approve that ordinance that would be establishing the premier resort area tax,” Johnson said.

The proposal would then be back in the hands of voters in a binding referendum.

“Each step of the process is its own veto opportunity,” Doyle said.

La Crosse County Highway Commissioner Ron Chamberlain said the money generated from the tax would help the county catch up on repairs.

“In a period — I estimate between six and seven years, we should be situated where we can actually catch up on maintenance, the deferred maintenance that we have,” Chamberlain said.

Despite the long road ahead, Johnson said the vote sends a message to state leadership.

“We need the state to step up and meet its responsibility for roads. Period,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there has been some confusion on whether the tax affects certain items such as fruit or eggs at convenience stores, which do fall under PRAT guidelines.

She said those items are, and will remain, tax exempt.

Leaders said it could take up to the fall of 2018 before the PRAT would move through the state Legislature and back to county voters.