Mar 2, 7:12 PM EST
Wis. gov. wants to increase gun background fees
By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Handguns would get more expensive in Wisconsin under Gov. Jim Doyle's budget proposal.
The Democratic governor's spending plan would increase background check fees from $8 to $30, a move that could affect tens of thousands of gun buyers. Republicans pounced on the idea. Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, branded it "outrageous."
"Gun owners should not be unfairly taxed when legally purchasing a firearm to help Governor Doyle balance his budget," Suder said in a statement.
Doyle's budget director, Dave Schmiedicke, said the increase would help offset shortfalls in the background check program and other law enforcement programs funded through offender surcharges.
"It's related to addressing criminal justice needs," Schmiedicke said.
Right now, the FBI runs background checks on long rifle buyers in Wisconsin. The state Justice Department handles handgun checks through a hot line for dealers.
They call in with information on the purchaser, which the agency uses to make a preliminary check. The dealer then submits written information for verification. Each dealer is assessed $8 per check, a cost typically passed on to the purchaser. The money goes to cover the cost of the program.
Last year DOJ took 47,373 hot line calls and approved 46,782, according to agency data. In 2007, it took 38,849 and approved 38,261.
The $8 fee has remained unchanged since it was created in 1991 and the background program has ended each fiscal year since then in the red. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects it will finish the year that ends June 30 with an estimated $1.2 million shortfall.
Doyle proposed increasing the fees from $8 to $30 in his 2007-09 state budget, but the measure died. He wanted to meld the fee money with criminal surcharges to create a new fund to support an array of law enforcement and prison initiatives, such as alcohol and drug treatment, victim-witness services and recording police interrogations.
Dwindling revenue from those surcharges has resulted in a deficit over the last few budgets, Schmedike said. The fiscal bureau in 2007 perdicted surcharge-backed appropriations would end that year $1.6 million in the hole, and Schmedike said Monday they're on track for an $8 million shortfall now.
This time around, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, asked the governor to increase the fees to $13 to eliminate the deficit. Doyle dusted off his old plan instead, including a
"Our estimate is that $13 is the actual cost of the check. J.B. does not think it (the fee) should be used as a profit center for unrelated purposes," Justice spokesman Bill Cosh said.
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Rachel Parsons, like Suder, called the fee a tax on the constitutional right to own and bear arms. She said the background checks should be free.
"This could push buying a handgun out of the price range for many people," Parsons said.
Schmiedicke stressed blending surcharge and background fees coupled with another budget proposal to chop 5 percent from surcharge-backed programs would help close the deficits in both funding mechanisms.
Bill Turner owns Wild Bill's Outpost, a gun shop in Cameron. He said the background check increase might make gun buyers think harder about exactly what they want to spend their money on and might drive buyers to purchase from their friends to avoid the fees.
Still, he doubted it would curtail his sales much. Everyone is buying now in anticipation Democrats will tighten gun laws, he said.
"Right now guns are going nuts," he said, noting his sales so far this year are up 30 percent. "People are buying whatever they can buy because they're afraid they won't get them."
Wisconsin faces a $5.7 billion deficit because state agencies' spending requests outpace projected revenue.
The state Senate and Assembly would have to pass an identical version of the budget and Doyle would have to sign it before it could become law. Democrats control both legislative houses, leaving Republicans powerless to stop Doyle's spending plans.