RACINE — With just over two weeks left until Gov. Tony Evers has to present the 2020-21 biennial budget, Republican leaders are hoping to avoid any “poison pills.”
“The first move in the chess match is really Tony Evers,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said on Monday. “Because if he puts in a billion-dollar tax increase, that means the entire budget is built on quicksand.”
Evers’ deadline to present the proposed budget is Feb. 28.
Vos, along with other Racine County and Kenosha County Republican elected officials, met with The Journal Times Editorial Board on Monday to discuss several issues, the budget in particular.
A majority of Assembly Republicans have not served under a Democratic governor and they are finding that the negotiation process will be different.
Vos, R-Rochester, said it was easier to pass legislation under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
“You could literally go from idea to signed bill within a month,” Vos said. “Now, I think the process is going to be dramatically different.”
Vos said he knows certain topics are “poison pills” that won’t pass into law such as: increasing income taxes or expanding welfare on the Republican side; or decreasing school spending on the Democrat side.
In an attempt to avoid getting into certain legislative battles, Vos said he and other Republicans met with Evers after he defeated Walker in the Nov. 6 election to discuss which areas to avoid.
“He just looked at me blankly and didn’t make any commitments,” Vos said. “And now I think he’s proceeding down that path of offering the things that in many ways are never going to happen on our side of the aisle.”
Although Evers’ proposed budget has not been made public, Vos said the governor’s office is “telegraphing” to Republicans that Evers might include certain provisions in his budget with which they will have a conflict.
“They are going to put in a big income tax increase on manufacturers, they’re going to put in a big expansion of welfare with more people on BadgerCare,” Vos said. “Those two are non-starters with us. So they’re never going to happen.”
In an op-ed piece provided to The Journal Times, Evers said he plans to make good on a campaign promise by cutting taxes by 10 percent for single taxpayers making less than $80,000 per year or families making less than $150,000 per year.
Evers said he wants to make sure “we have a plan to pay for (the tax cut) in the long run.”
“This year, 21 millionaires in Wisconsin who make more than $30 million a year are projected to receive $38.9 million in tax breaks without having to create or retain any jobs in Wisconsin to get it. That’s just not right,” Evers said adding he plans to roll back “handouts to millionaires while protecting farms and small businesses.”
Evers goes on to write that he hoped to have bipartisan support, “but instead of working together to cut taxes for middle-class families, Republicans in the Legislature have introduced a competing proposal.”
“Not only will you not see the tax cut on your taxes next year, they also don’t have a plan to pay for it. Republicans are protecting these million-dollar handouts to millionaires, which means taxpayers in Wisconsin will be forced to foot the bill,” Evers said. “That’s just fiscally irresponsible.”
Assembly Republicans have presented Evers with a list of ideas, based off things he said he was in favor of during the campaign, that they hope will be in the proposed budget.
Some of those ideas include increasing funding for public schools to the two-thirds threshold that existed under Gov. Tommy Thompson, expanding SeniorCare to cover flu shots, preventing homelessness and investing in infrastructure.
Vos said the Assembly is already moving forward with a tax cut for lower-class and middle-class individuals by doubling the standard deduction, and plans that to be paid for with a $340 million budget surplus.
But Vos is wary of the direction Evers wants to go.
“If you build your budget off of phony revenue numbers because you think you’re going to have all of these tax increases, that means you can promise the world to a whole lot of people,” Vos said. “I’m trying to be optimistic that maybe he will change his mind, but I’m becoming less optimistic as we go.”
Vos said the state will have roughly $1.8 billion in new revenue, “which is a lot of new money that we get to spend without changing a single tax rate.”
“(Evers is) proposing $1.4 billion for education. That’s a nice number, but if you hear our revenue is $1.8 billion, that means there’s no way you can continue to pay for Medicaid, the university system or raises for public employees, all of the other things that he wants to do.”
Paying for roads
One of the major areas legislators will have to wrestle with ideas is on transportation and paying for road projects.
“He has to make the first move in that area, too,” Vos said. “I think we need to find a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism that actually can meet the needs of where we are.”
As more cars are being built with better gas mileage and more drivers are switching to hybrid or electric cars, Vos said the gasoline tax is not a sustainable way to fund road projects.
“If you don’t have a user-fee-based system, you are never going to be able to make this work,” Vos said. “If it were up to me, I think that tolling is the better answer, because you’re going to pay per mile.”
If tolling were to become reality on Wisconsin roads, Vos said it would be placed under the umbrella of the state Department of Transportation, and that the system would be similar to the toll system in Florida.
Vos said there is a “basic philosophical difference” at hand in these discussions.
“I respect the fact that many of my Democrat colleagues believe the way you grow the economy is to give more money to the government to be able to spend on programs that help people,” Vos said. “That is a part of economic growth. If you don’t have good schools, you can’t have a good economy … all of that is true.”
But, Vos said, if taxes are raised to a level that “makes it impossible for you to live here” and it becomes difficult to pay employees or make ends meet, “then you become Illinois.”
“We’ve been able to find the appropriate balance,” Vos said. “The last budget alone included a $636 million increase to public schools, and we were able to eliminate half of the personal property tax.”
“Not only will you not see the tax cut on your taxes next year, they also don’t have a plan to pay for it. Republicans are protecting these million-dollar handouts to millionaires, which means taxpayers in Wisconsin will be forced to foot the bill. That’s just fiscally irresponsible.” Gov. Tony Evers
“If you build your budget off of phony revenue numbers because you think you’re going to have all of these tax increases, that means you can promise the world to a whole lot of people. I’m trying to be optimistic that maybe (Gov. Tony Evers) will change his mind, but I’m becoming less optimistic as we go.” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester