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Bill would forgive dead soldiers' income taxes

15 states, US have similar laws in effect

May 13, 2013
 
D. Johnson
D. Johnson

MADISON — Andrew Johnson got a second shock nearly a year after his 24-year-old son, David, was killed in Afghanistan. While the federal government forgave David’s taxes, the state of Wisconsin would not.

Johnson and his wife, Laura, ended up paying the $900 bill.

It’s a common situation among the families of soldiers who have been killed in combat, but one that Johnson hopes will be remedied by a bill up for a vote today in the Legislature. The bill written by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, would forgive the last two years of state income taxes for military members killed in the line of duty.

“This is not right,” said Fitzgerald, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has known Johnson for years. “It’s almost an insult to soldiers’ families.”

Federal law includes an income tax exemption for military pay earned by service members killed in combat zones like Afghanistan. Fifteen states had similar state income tax exemptions in 2011, according to a report from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, who worked with Fitzgerald on the bill said he was surprised and embarrassed that Wisconsin was not one of them.

Nearly 6,700 U.S. soldiers have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. About 150 were from Wisconsin, said Col. Julio Barron, legislative liaison at the Wisconsin National Guard. The number would be higher if it included those who died later from wounds suffered in combat, he added.

Johnson said his son, 1st Lt. David Johnson, was deployed to Afghanistan in December 2011 on his first overseas assignment. David Johnson earned multiple honors, including a Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart, before he was killed by an improvised explosive device in January 2012 while patrolling in the Kandahar Province.

“It isn’t about money. I don’t get any benefits,” said Johnson, who asked Fitzgerald to create a bill for a state tax exemption. “The key is that the state should truly honor those who died while serving the country.”

The measure is scheduled for votes in both the Assembly and Senate on Tuesday. If it passes, Johnson said he has asked Gov. Scott Walker to sign it on Memorial Day in Mayville, where the Johnson family lives.

“Governor Walker believes this is a bill that should pass the legislature overwhelmingly and hopes to sign it into law soon,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said in a statement.

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