By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) â¿¿ The state Senate's top Republican said Wednesday he opposes including any so-called tonnage tax in a bill that would overhaul Wisconsin's mining regulations.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said during a brief address at a Madison business convention that a faction of his caucus has been mulling tweaking the bill to add the tax, which would require mining companies to pay according to how much iron they extract. He said such a tax would signal that legislators don't want mining in the state and Republican Gov. Scott Walker almost certainly would veto any bill that includes it.
"It flies in the face of everything we've talked about for two years," Fitzgerald told reporters during a question-and-answer period after the speech. "This state is a state that welcomes mining. I don't understand why you'd want to do that."
Later Wednesday, Walker stopped short of explicitly saying he would kill the bill if it included a tonnage tax during a news conference to announce domestic violence funding in his upcoming state budget. But the governor did say he doesn't support the idea.
"I'm not issuing vetoes before I get bills in front of my desk," Walker said. "But I think you're right. That's not something I'm in favor of as a new tax in that regard."
Republicans have been working for more than a year to help Gogebic Taconite open a massive iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior. Company officials have promised the mine would create hundreds of jobs in the area and thousands more for heavy equipment manufacturers around the state, but they want Republicans to clear the regulatory path before they move forward.
Conservationists and Democrats, meanwhile, have railed against the company's plans, insisting the project would devastate the area's pristine environment.