Vos says tax cut should be bigger than $3.4 billion

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 13, 2022

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he wants “significantly more” than half of the state’s projected $6.8 billion budget surplus to go to tax relief in the next biennial budget.

The Rochester Republican joined state Rep. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) at last week’s Forum Friday, “A Look Ahead at Wisconsin’s 2023 Legislative Session,” hosted  by Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Haywood said Wisconsin is in a “better position to invest” in various government programs.

“It’s the people’s money,” the Democrat said.

“Rep. Haywood is right. It is the people’s money,” Vos responded. That’s why, the speaker said, Republicans are not going to use the historic surplus to expand the size of government.

The budget balance boom is one-time money that came from good financial stewardship under Republican control of the Legislature, Vos said.

Last time around, conservatives built a budget with $3.4 billion in total tax cuts, a budget Democrat Gov. Tony Evers had little political choice but to sign. Vos said he can’t see doing a lower tax cut than that in the 2023-25 budget now that the state is seeing historic revenue projections. He said he hopes the Legislature goes “significantly higher” than the $3.4 million in tax relief.

“My hope is that we take the surplus and use that to give it back to the people of the state of Wisconsin, the people that have overpaid the taxes that we have,” the speaker said. 

There’s been talk of deeper tax reform, even a flat tax.

Last month, Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said they wanted to enact “transformational, once-in-a-generation tax changes.” LeMahieu said he’s interested in pursuing a flat tax so that “all taxpayers get a tax cut.”

“But we definitely need to drive down our top rates,” the senate leader said at a Wispolitics forum.

Evers campaigned for re-election on a 10 percent tax cut for individuals making less than $100,000 per year. It’s clear the Democrat wants to spend the brunt of the surplus on government programs, as he proposed in his rejected budget plans during his first term in office.

State Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), who co-chairs the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee, told Empower Wisconsin last week that Republican budget writers will be focused on tax cuts and tax reform. But he said there are some important investments JFC will be weighing, including education, transportation and appropriate levels of funding for local governments hit hard by skyrocketing inflation. And the Legislature will also have to fix Evers’ mess at the state’s Veterans homes, particularly the facility in Union Grove that has seen violations mounting and veterans care deteriorating over the past four years.

“There’s no secret about the major problems at DSPS (Department of Safety and Professional Services), as well,” Born said of the Evers administration’s failure to timely process professional licenses. “Their answer is a lot more employees but they can’t seem to fill their current staffing levels.”

State Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc), a member of the budget-writing committee, said he supports tax relief and important investments but warned lawmakers need to be cautious going into potentially rough economic times ahead.

“We have things we need to do, but we have to be very realistic and very cautious moving forward,” he said. “I do think we’re heading for a recession. What that looks like, who knows?”

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