What is the Status of the Minimum Markup Repeal?

October 22, 2015

by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

My ten-year-old daughter Moira is a Girl Scout, and part of earning her government badge was to learn about crazy laws in other states. After her meeting, I decided she should meet some of the politicians in Wisconsin that are working against crazy laws in our own state, so I took her to the Waukesha County Pints and Politics meeting.

Of course that meant I had to introduce her to Sen. Leah Vukmir, one of the authors – along with Rep. Jim Ott – of legislation to repeal Wisconsin’s minimum markup law. Vukmir explained to my daughter that the law means the government requires a minimum price for things like school supplies and even laptop computers. My daughter, appalled at the thought, asked loudly, “Why would the government want to do that? That’s pretty dumb.”

And then my daughter reminded me that she really, really wants a laptop computer.

The law that both Vukmir and my daughter opposes is a leftover from the New Deal era when the government thought it was important to keep prices artificially high. The law does not allow retail stores to sell items below cost in almost all circumstances.

As a result, Wisconsin consumers are punished. Retailers in other states are able to offer even lower back-to-school or Black Friday shopping specials, but in Wisconsin, prices on everything from big screen televisions to folders for school children are artificially kept higher by government mandate.

The issue received renewed attention when Meijer, a new grocery store in the Wisconsin market, was flagged by competitors for possibly violating the law. As the MacIver Institute reported, competitors were upset about Meijer’s introductory prices on items like milk, coffee and frozen pizza. The publicity spurred a renewed effort to repeal this antiquated law.

So where is it? Where is the bill that is at the top of nearly every conservative’s agenda? Where is the bill that even a ten-year-old Girl Scout can understand?

Unfortunately, we have to be like Jim Rockford looking for the bill. No, I don’t have a business card printer in the back seat of my Pontiac Firebird, but I have seen the bill and it was spotted in the Capitol.

We know that the bill was sent out for co-sponsors. It’s being co-sponsored in the state Assembly by Reps. Janel Brandtjen, Dave Craig, Rob Hutton, AndrĂ© Jacque, Joel Kleefish, Dale Kooyenga, Jesse Kremer, David Murphy, Jim Ott, Kevin Petersen and Joe Sanfelippo. It’s being co-sponsored in the Senate by Vukmir, Alberta Darling, Steve Nass and Duey Strobel. So despite a rumor that it’s in a safe at the Wisconsin Grocers Association, we know it’s in the Capitol somewhere.

We can guess it’s not going to appear in the Assembly soon. In a recent interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette, neither Assembly Speaker Robin Vos nor Majority Leader Jim Steineke mentioned it as a priority for the current legislative session.

Over in the state senate, it’s still not in a committee. I tracked it down to Senate President Mary Lazich’s office. At RightWisconsin’s Right Women Awards dinner Friday night, I asked the senator if she knew where the bill was. She said, sotto voce, “We have to be strategic about this.”

Strategy is one thing, stalling while the clock runs out is another. The Fall floor period for the legislature is supposed to begin this week and they are supposed to have their work done by November 5th. While other bills are getting considered, the repeal of the minimum markup law is sitting in a desk drawer. Deer hunters will get to wear pink (yes, really) before the minimum markup law is repealed. They’ll just have to pay full price for their new hunting outfits.

It would be nice if conservatives could see progress on a bill that would actually benefit middle class Wisconsinites as they prepare their lists for the holiday shopping season. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and buying the ingredients for the traditional holiday meal shouldn’t cause Wisconsinites to think of the legislature as being full of fat, inactive turkeys held in captivity by the special interests.