The Assembly chamber in the Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo © Andy Manis)
The Assembly chamber in the Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Republicans pass $250 million in income tax cuts Thursday over Governor’s proposal to spend that same amount on public education

The acrimony between Republican leaders of the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers will now stretch into a new round of political chicken as the Senate approves a GOP plan for addressing a state surplus with election year tax cuts, daring the governor to veto it after lawmakers ignored his own state surplus proposal to inject a similar amount of money into schools.

Despite last-minute efforts by Democrats in both houses to amend the GOP-backed income tax cut, swapping it for a $250 million injection to public education, a tax cut of the same amount will advance to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, already is threatening a veto override if Gov. Tony Evers does not sign it, a move that would put pressure on any Democrats who feel vulnerable in November.

“I don’t accept the fact that he won’t sign it because there is no good reason not to sign it. I certainly think if, for some reason, he didn’t, we would talk about doing a veto override,” Vos said at a press conference prior to the start of the last day the Assembly is in session. “ We want to let the people of Wisconsin know who is on their side.” 

While there has been no official statement from Evers’ office, a series of tweets indicates his leanings on the bill.

“I know there are Republicans concerned about the high price tag of their own unsustainable tax bill that shortchanges our rainy day fund,” reads one tweet. “My plan invests in our kids and property tax relief. There’s still time to do the right thing.”

“The answer is simple. He should sign it,” Vos responded. “This is a fantastic package.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he met with Evers Tuesday and was under the impression Evers would consider signing the tax cut proposal. 

Evers’ press team countered this on Twitter Wednesday saying, “The governor told @SenFitzgerald he’ll be as open to Republicans’ tax bill as Republicans have been about passing his education plan.”

“I am hopeful that the governor will carefully examine this tax cut, like he told me he would when we met this week,” Fitzgerald said Thursday morning after his house passed the tax cut. 

Besides a $250 million personal income tax cut for low- to middle-income earners, the proposal also includes a $100 million down payment on state debt and roughly $45 million in property tax for manufacturers.

The showdown over how to spend an unanticipated budget surplus has split Republicans and Democrats since it was discovered last month. 

As quickly as Evers put forth his plan, top Republicans indicted it does not have their support.

The governor’s plan would spend $250 million toward school-based mental health services and toward students with disabilities. An additional $10 million would be invested in rural districts, specifically through rural sparsity aid, and another $130 million would provide property tax relief by being distributed to schools through the equalization formula.

Evers’ plan calls for renewing a promise he made to voters for the state to fund two-thirds of the cost of public education. That recommendation was also made by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Education, Evers said, suggesting the idea has bipartisan support.

Evers’ call for restoring funding levels follows the release of a report last week by the Wisconsin Budget Project that found funding for the state’s public school system, when adjusted for inflation, will be $3.9 billion less over a ten-year period than if funding levels remained constant at 2011 levels. 

Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Mount Horeb, referenced the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission that held hearings around the state and heard from parents, teachers and administrators about the concerns of the public school system.

“When you (Republicans) talk about failing schools I want to vomit,” she said. “You say schools are failing but then you don’t fund them.”

Vos said Evers ran on a platform in 2018 to cut middle-class taxes and this proposal allows him to keep that campaign promise. 

The proposal heading to the governor’s desk, amounts to an average of $105 tax reduction per filer and would increase the maximum deduction by 13.2 percent for each filer type. 

Pope-Roberts said instead of passing a tax cut, Republicans should go to their local schools with some duct tape.

“Sit in the back of a classroom with duct tape over your mouths,” she said. “Listen and watch what is happening. We could do something about our schools but we don’t. Shame on us.”