By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Liberal Gov. Tony Evers has just signed “the most conservative budget in a generation.”
The $87 billion, Republican-crafted biennial budget includes $2 billion in income tax relief, two-thirds funding for education, and keeps government spending under 2 percent.
Evers took credit for the tax cuts despite the fact that his budget proposal included north of $1 billion in tax hikes.
“Governor Tony Evers deserves NO credit for signing our budget …He got boxed into a corner and rather than fight for his unpopular budget and risk a political knockout, he and his team threw in the towel and signed our responsible budget,” said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostberg).
At the same time, Evers blasted Republicans for cutting billions of dollars in non-fiscal, liberal pet projects the Democrat stuffed into his budget proposal. He included everything from Medicaid expansion and Climate Change initiatives to legalizing marijuana and rolling back Act 10 and other attacks on worker freedom.
“Though there is much more to do to move our state forward, I will continue fighting for our priorities and working to engage the Legislature on using the state resources available to continue the work they left unfinished. Let’s get to work, folks,” Evers tweeted after the budget signing this morning at an elementary school in Whitefish Bay.
Evers announced he will use $100 million of the $2.5 billion in federal COVID relief at his disposal for education. The announcement confirms what Republicans have been arguing all along: Why dump hundreds of millions of state taxpayer dollars into education when the governor has $2.5 billion in federal funds to spend as he sees fit. At the same time. Wisconsin schools will receive billions of dollars more in federal COVID-19 relief.
The Republican budget, which passed last week with a handful of Democrat votes, includes $128 million in state funding for K-12 schools and a commitment to two-thirds state funding for education. It also reduces property taxes by a combined $650 million.
Evers made 50 partial vetoes, including a measure to add another $550 million to Wisconsin’s rainy day fund. The boost in the budget stabilization fund — and the tax cuts — come compliments of a projected surplus $4.4 billion larger than expected. Evers said the rainy day fund is already flush with cash, so he’s keeping the $550 million in the state’s general fund “to address gaps and shortfalls in the Legislature’s budget actions.”
The governor also wiped out a measure that would have ended the state’s antiquated tax on businesses. Republicans marked $200 million to take the personal property tax off the books.
“…(E)ven as he takes credit for these tax cuts, he can’t resist keeping higher taxes on small businesses by announcing his veto of the elimination of personal property tax. This continues his clear attack on those who employ people,” said Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield). “By vetoing the tax cut and our bill to end the federal UI benefits, he’s making it difficult for businesses to fill open positions and causing businesses to lose desperately needed revenue to keep the doors open.”
Evers recently killed a Republican bill that would have ended the $300 weekly federal bonus payment to the unemployed. The subsidy, businesses advocates say, has made it more enticing for laid-off Wisconsinites to stall their return to the work force, turning a worker shortage in an economic crisis.
State Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, said it’s “laughable” Evers is taking credit for cutting taxes.
“Even though the Governor used his veto pen to make some significant changes, he ultimately had no choice but to sign the Republican legislature’s budget which leads Wisconsin into the next biennium.”