MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers has found a new campaign slush fund.
Not satisfied with the approximately $4.5 billion in federal COVID relief aid he has been free to spend at his whim and leisure, Evers now wants to take a big chunk of the PROJECTED $3.8 billion state budget surplus and buy off voters with quick-cash stimmies.
Just two days after the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported the state is on pace to finish the 2021-23 biennium (in June 2023) with a balance nearly $2.9 billion better than expected, Evers announced he wants to blow much of it on election year checks — $150 to every Wisconsinite. Whether they’re taxpayers or not.
A family of four would get a quick $600.
The Democrat wants to dump another $600-plus million into public education, more than $100 million into the University of Wisconsin System, and about about $30 million into Wisconsin technical colleges. The total package would suck up about $1.7 billion — including child care and family care tax credits — from a surplus that has yet to materialize.
Wisconsin Republicans, who control the Legislature, have said they’re eyeing transformative tax relief, but they want to wait until next year to see where the state’s budget picture ends up. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said the best time to do that was during next year’s budget session.
“We’re going to get to a massive tax cut, God willing we come back next session with a different governor,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said earlier this week.
But big spender Evers is itching to get at the projected surplus.
“This is the people’s money and sitting on the people’s money for another year and a half makes no sense,” he said at a Capitol press conference.
It’s actually the taxpayers’ money, said fiscal hawk Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield).
“Every Wisconsinite gets $150? Well, not every Wisconsinite is paying taxes. If you want to give it to taxpayers, give it to taxpayers. Don’t play Candy Man,” Kooyenga said.
LeMahieu cut Evers off at the pass.
“Senate Republicans will not gamble with a projected state surplus to fund Tony Evers’ re-election gimmicks,” the Oostburg Republican said.
Besides, Evers currently has $930 million in federal “Biden bucks” to spend at his sole discretion, LeMahieu said. He’ll get another $1.25 billion in federal COVID relief in May.
“That’s more than enough federal money to fund his re-election gimmicks without risking state taxpayer resources. If he’s serious about his own plan, he should fund it.,” the majority leader said.
Evers has used the money like an unregulated campaign slush fund, dropping other people’s cash on constituencies he’ll need if the Democrat has any hope of a second term.
Evers says his election-year stimmies will “help address rising costs at the gas pump and checkout lines.”
But the drunken spending going on in D.C. and the costly policies of Evers’ fellow Democrats in control of the federal government have driven the soaring inflation Evers says he’s trying to fight.
“This is a Band-Aid focus as opposed to root-cause solutions,” Kooyenga said of Evers’ spending plan. “They’re printing more money. By pushing more money out there, that’s only going to create more inflation.” And, he said, the rising prices at the pump are the direct result of the Biden administration’s foreign policy failures and an environmental extremism that has declared war on fracking, horizontal drilling and other means of domestic fuel and energy production.
Republicans noted how Democrats in 2018 attacked then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s tax credit rebate plan as an election-year bribe.
“To quote Democrat leader Gordon Hintz in 2018, ‘This is an election year bribe. The governor might as well save money on postage and just hand these checks out at polling places in November,’” Vos said.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who was Evers’ running mate at the time, said this about Walker’s $100-per-child rebate: “It’s literally a guy saying, ‘I’m Scott Walker running for reelection, have some money!’ “Everyone I’ve talked to sees it as a blatant payoff.”
So what are Barnes and his boss doing?
Evers shrugged off the question, saying, “Scott Walker did not have a pandemic back then.”
Scott Walker also didn’t have unprecedented amounts of federal money at his disposal during an election year.