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Most La Crosse County voters support the idea of paying more in sales taxes to generate money to repair the county highway system.

Tuesday’s ballot featured an advisory referendum asking county voters for support to establish a premier resort area tax, which adds a half-percent to all taxable sales at businesses designated as “tourism related.” The referendum won decisive approval by a vote of 8,361 to 6,853 (55 to 45 percent).

La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson


La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson said she was pleasantly surprised at the referendum’s margin of victory, especially considering the push by the opposition in the past couple weeks.

“Nobody is jumping up and down and screaming for joy about a new local tax,” Johnson said.

The state Revenue Department estimates the tax would raise $6.6 million annually, with the county planning to use $5 million of that for catching up on an $87 million backlog of road work and sharing the remainder with the county’s 18 municipalities.

According to the Revenue Department, the tax would be charged at roughly half the businesses in the county. The categories of business types at which the tax would be charged are based on industry designations that each business decides itself, based on where it gets most of its revenue. For example, gas stations are required to collect the tax, but a business like Kwik Trip that generates a lot of revenue from sales of food and beverages, might designate itself as a grocery store, which would be exempt.

The complicated nature of the tax might have deterred some from supporting it, but Jenna Ring, a sophomore at UW-La Crosse, voted for it even though she was learning of it for the first time at the polls. She said if the roads need to be fixed and the county was asking for this money, it must be needed.

Josh Soine also voted “yes,” saying the need for more investment in roads is plain. “The money’s got to come from someplace,” he said.

An older couple outside the La Crosse Public Library, who asked not to be identified, voted against the tax, saying it was unfair to visitors and that they weren’t convinced that the county was spending its money wisely on road work. They were concerned too much was being spent on bike trails.

Another voter, a La Crosse man who didn’t want to be identified, gave the county credit for creativity but said the sales tax might not be the best route. The solution really has to come from Madison, he said.

Johnson agrees the real issue is lack of support from the state and she said the referendum will help drive that message home. “For me, the takeaway is voters have definitely expressed a desire to fix local roads,” she said. “I think it has been a really healthy, for the most part, constructive conversation about how challenging paying for roads is. We expect the state to do better than they have.”

FILE -- Steve Doyle mug


Tuesday’s referendum was just the first step toward establishing a premier resort area tax. The next step will be for state Rep. Steve Doyle, an Onalaska Democrat who also sits on the county board, to meet with Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to see if he can get traction with the legislation giving the county permission to charge the tax. Walker has twice signed such legislation for municipalities, but La Crosse County is the first county to go after the tax.

State law allows any municipality or county that has at least 40 percent of its equalized property value in tourism-related businesses to charge the tax. Those that fall short like the county, which has only 5 percent, must seek an exception from the Legislature.

If the referendum results are a strong enough statement of support to convince Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature to give La Crosse County an exception, the county board must approve the tax by a two-thirds majority and then conduct another referendum.

“The voters will always get the last word,” Doyle said.

Doyle said he believes the margin of victory shows enough support to make a good case in the Legislature for giving the county the new taxing authority.

“When the electorate says we’re willing to take that step, that sends a pretty powerful message,” Doyle said. “I think what the voters said is they’re willing to take it to the next step.”

Joe Heim mug


Joe Heim, a UW-La Crosse political scientist, said the passage of the referendum was the single biggest surprise in an election of unexpected outcomes.

“I don’t know a single person who thought that was going to pass,” he said. “Historically when a referendum has organized opposition usually it loses. In this case there was opposition out there. Clear opposition, and yet it won.”

Heim interpreted the win as a statement on the condition of county roads.

“It kind of tells you the people who voted drive. If you drive around lax co you know the roads are in trouble. People felt from personal experience that something had to be done. … It sure was an indication that people are willing to tax themselves.”


Entertainment and county government reporter

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or

(40) comments


Wisconsin Senate OKs high-cap well bill

High Capacity Wells Usually End Up Being Contaminated By Arsenic.
Say Goodbye To Clean Water and possibly your Children's health.


Hey Fear, you are commenting on the wrong story. In addition to that, you have your facts wrong. Many wells in Wisconsin are contaminated by naturally occurring Arsenic because of the underground materials that make up Wisconsin, including my well with a value of 12 instead of a maximum of 10. No high capacity wells anywhere nearby. You have to quit smoking that funny stuff in your avatar. It is effecting your thinking (if any).

Big Easy

I am embarrassed that the county spring voters (government workers and unionistas) were duped by the county board. This has nothing to do with tourism. We all will be paying more taxes. The county board libs won't even spend $1 million of the $44 million they extort from the taxpayers for roads. THAT is our problem! If they get another $5 million, they will squander it.

The county has been contributing less and less of our county taxes to roads to sabotage the situation. Sure everyone sees the roads are terrible, but the county board has $40 MILLION + a year to spend on it, yet they have been spending almost ZERO.

Also, do you know that the state gets 3% off the top of the $5 million or so the PRAT tax would generate?


Quote from Tara Johnson last night...Get through the rest of the process to be able to start to collect the tax from visitors and tourist. Its a good night


People need to read up on the DOT Audit that was just done..


Great news everyone!!

"Not going to travel to or spend money in Wisconsin."

Now if we can just get him to stop posting idiotic comments in the comments section of the newspaper that is in located in Wisconsin, the world would be a better place!


F'ing retard that are!


What's really sad is this tax will be imposed on 100% of La Crosse county residents, when about 80% of them didn't express an opinion on it by voting. Once again, the future is decided by the minority that votes. Now after the roads are fixed, has anyone said anything about repealing it, NO, because the tax will become another revenue stream for the next boondoggle. And, when and if this sham is approved, the belly-aching will commence about the tax. If the county managed their finances even half way responsible, roads wouldn't be in the shape they are in. It was more important to spend $23M on the Associated Bank project than being responsible and fixing the old courthouse which was built to go up.

Tim Russell

If it weren't for the big Trucks going in and out of the Industrial Park (some for Crown, Cork & Seal), our Roads would be in better shape as well.


I am pleasantly surprised that the nice couple pointed out the money being wasted on the spandex crowd. New rule: No more money spent on "bikey stuff" until the roads are fixed. tired of all the rich spandex dweebs getting their way without paying for it! Also, put some blacktop through the swamp!


Do you know that the flier you got in the mail costs all us La Crosse county taxpayers $20,000? Plus an addition $60,000 for the design of the logo. Now I am sure with that, they could of easily fixed the pot hole in the picture.


The roads could be paved with gold if they increased it by a nickel a beer... Wisconsin is ranked 48 for beer tax with only .06 a gallon. They don't think twice about raising a cigarette tax by a dollar. How many people get into accidents because they were smoking? How many people get divorced because of excessive smoking?


The roads could be paved with gold if they increased it by a nickel a beer... Wisconsin is ranked 48 for beer tax with only .06 a gallon. They don't think twice about raising a cigarette tax by a dollar. How many people get into accidents because they were smoking? How many people get divorced because of excessive smoking?


La Crosse is a regional shopping destination. A lot of people come from surrounding counties to do their shopping here. They will be paying more than the tourist.


Not going to travel to or spend money in Wisconsin.




If it's God's country why isn't God getting some of the revenue. He built this. La Crosse didn't form their own bluffs or the Mississippi.


What is your god going to do with money? Does his expenses run high? High cost of pedophilia litigation?

Buggs Raplin

I was kind of bummed. My votes, except for city clerk, were losers. Then I saw video of the new Pepsi commercial, and became physically ill. Not a good Wednesday so far.

The Mouse of Death

[angry]This is quite the befuddlement. I am deeply bereaved to find fellow conservatives in cahoots with tax-and-spend Republicans during these trying times. What hast God wrought? Obamacare for the Appian Way. We are fortunate that Scott Walker, this nation's governor, will come to his sensibilities such that Error: Stack overflow in line 4106

Buggs Raplin

Mouse, did you know? Tony Danza is 65, but looks like 45 because of what he eats for breakfast. Thank you MSN. I'm in the know thanks to you.


As a business owner I am extremely disappointed. First of all, this isn't legal and the state won't approve it. Also, what is a resort business? Who will determine this?
At a glance I suspect this was a ploy designed to suggest to the state that it needs to more to maintain roads, but this would be at the expense of locally owned businesses. WI is already trailing behind states such as MN concerning economic growth and it stems from the current administration at state level failing to take actions that encourage actual economic growth. Fix the real problem and please stop wasting time.

Comment deleted.

According to the Revenue Department, the tax would be charged at roughly half the businesses in the county.

Union Man

appears the majority want to opt out of the republi-con gravel road option


Once again, poor people take the hit. . .

Tim Russell

Poor people use Resort and Tourist related businesses?


No they don't. Have you looked at the list of items that will be taxed? I'm certain that 'poor' people will need to purchase some of these item.


According to the Revenue Department, the tax would be charged at roughly half the businesses in the county.

Tim Russell

I have serious doubts about how much someone with a limited income is going to spend at those locations such that 0.5% is really going to make a difference.


Yes! The list of businesses which will add the new sales tax is based on SIC code. It includes food, drug and clothing stores. It includes gas stations and a whole bunch of other stuff people (including poor people)> need to purchase every day. This is not just a tax on tourists.

For reference:

In addition to the businesses previously identified as "tourism-related retailers," under sec. 77.994, Wis. Stats., businesses that are classified under the following industry numbers are also subject to the premier resort area tax:

SIC Codes:
5311 Department Stores (KMart, Shopko, Walmart, JC Penney, Sears)
5331 Variety Stores (Target)
5912 Drug Stores (Walgreens)
5943 Stationery Stores (Office Depot)
5812 Eating Places (Every Restaurant)
5461 Retail Bakeries
5541 Gas Stations
5611 Men's and Boys' Clothing and Accessory Stores
5621 Women's Clothing Stores
5632 Women's Accessory and Specialty Stores
5641 Children's and Infants' Wear Stores E
5651 Family Clothing Stores
5661 Shoe Stores
5699 Miscellaneous Apparel and Accessory Stores
5399 Miscellaneous General Merchandise Stores
5942 Bookstores

5945 Hobby, Toy, and Game Shops
5999 Miscellaneous Retail Stores
7991 Health Clubs
7032 Sporting and Recreational Camps
7033 Campgrounds
5941 Bike Shops


it has to be approved by the state legislature, Scoot, and the county board and then…then it comes back to the voters in the form of a BINDING referendum.

So it ain't over. The vote was not overwhelming in favor.

I sure hope it doesn't go through. I really want to see the Republican dream of something for nothing appear.

Tim Russell

Something for nothing?


What happened to all that money from gambling that was supposed make Wisconsin a paradise?

Grand Dad's Bluff

County misrepresented this tax, it is a sales tax and the burden will fall largely on the people of the City of Lacrosse- not tourists.

Comment deleted.
random annoying bozo

nope, that was the referendum....the voters 'advised' the county board that they would like their taxes now rest assured the county board will do just that, raise the county sales tax.

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