“There’s no excuse” to not use the massive surplus for infrastructure and small business aid, Evers says.
Wisconsin is projected to bring in $4.4 billion more in tax revenue over the next three years than previously expected, an “unprecedented” increase, according to a Tuesday memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).
The heightened estimate is mainly due to the additional money that many people and businesses received from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), LFB Director Robert Lang wrote. The ARP provided $1,400 stimulus checks to most individuals, boosted unemployment payments by $300 per week, and launched a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses.
The new money is also expected to bring an additional $808 million to the state’s rainy day fund, raising the total balance to more than $1.5 billion. Republican legislators refused to use any of the fund throughout the coronavirus pandemic, so it is unclear under what circumstances that fund might be utilized.
Gov. Tony Evers and Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan said the $4.4 billion windfall should be used on education, broadband, and business development funds, while Republican lawmakers immediately proposed using the money entirely on tax cuts.
RELATED: Republicans Want to Spend Less on Schools Than Evers Proposes, but Doing So Could Cost $1.5 Billion in Federal Aid
“There’s no excuse for choosing not to fully invest in our kids and our schools, broadband, venture capital and support for Main Street businesses, among other critical priorities, that will ensure we’re bouncing back and better than we were before this pandemic hit,” Evers said in a statement.
In a joint statement, top Republicans warned against “recklessly” spending the new money.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally reform our tax code and provide transformational tax relief for Wisconsinites,” Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said in the statement. “Hard-working taxpayers gave the state a massive surplus. We will take this moment to consider ways to significantly reduce the tax burden on workers and main street businesses and pay off state debt to save taxpayers long into the future.”
Brennan, speaking at a virtual luncheon hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club and WisPolitics, said “there is a place for [cutting taxes], absolutely, but there’s also a place for making sure that we make the kind of investments that are necessary” in the areas Evers outlined.
“Giving it all back in tax relief might make everyone happy, but in a couple of years, we’ll be sitting here and saying, ‘Where are we going to get the money to run state government?’” Evers told WDJT-TV.
Republicans who control the Legislature are vehemently opposed to such spending. As it stands, their proposed 2021-23 budget increases school spending by so little it endangers an additional $1.5 billion in federal funding.
After news broke of the surplus, Evers reversed state agency spending reductions he imposed earlier in the pandemic to account for expected revenue shortfalls.
The Legislature’s budget-writing committee, set to meet Tuesday afternoon, pushed its meeting back into the evening, likely so leaders could first discuss the budget ramifications of the surplus.
The exchange that played out with Tuesday’s surplus announcement is a familiar song and dance for Evers and Republican legislative leaders.
Faced with an expected $450 million surplus in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Evers advocated for using $450 million on schools. Republicans refused to use the money on education and instead tried to implement a $250 million income tax cut, a plan Evers ultimately vetoed.