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‘Surplus’ spenders — hang on to your wallets, taxpayers!

Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 30, 2020

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — The good news: Wisconsin has a big budget “surplus.” The bad news:  Wisconsin liberals see a tremendous opportunity to spend more taxpayer money.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said as much last week.

“With this news comes opportunity,” the Oshkosh Democrat said in a statement. Hintz insists “short-sighted” decisions by Republicans during last year’s budget debate “resulted in cuts” to programs that are “worth reconsidering.”

For instance, Hintz would like to see some of the excess tax revenue go toward the University of Wisconsin System. The same system that was discovered in 2013 to be squirreling away $1 billion-plus in unrestricted fund balances — a slush fund. Six years later, the system still boasts $750 million in unrestricted cash.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau last week reported state tax collections are expected to finish more than $818 million higher than projections made last summer, thanks in large part to strong corporate tax growth. By the end of the biennium — on June 30, 2021 —  LFB projects the net general fund balance to be $620.2 million.

Conservatives want to see that money go back to taxpayers.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) is pushing for a property tax cut following a report that shows average property tax increases across the state soared to their highest level in a decade.

Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) has called for income tax cuts, particularly through bracket elimination. He said he will support tax relief, whatever final form it may take.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has said he favors debt reduction and cutting taxes in the pursuit of shrinking the size of government.

But Gov. Tony Evers is a grow-government liberal. He has shrugged his shoulders at the idea of property tax relief in particular, insisting that he will focus on the state’s “priorities.” As we saw with Evers’ massive budget proposal that would have raised taxes north of $1 billion, his priorities generally align with more spending.

Many Republicans, too, appear to be on board with an array of government-led initiatives and programs, including a broad and costly clean water campaign.

Evers and other politicians, including a fair share of Republicans, like to label the excess revenue as a “surplus.” That’s a joke to anyone with a basic understanding of generally accepted accounting principles.

Groups like Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin say the priority should be the taxpayer.

“Wisconsin is taxing more than it needs and should return the excess back to taxpayers. It’s their money,” AFP-Wisconsin director Eric Bott said.

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