What a Waste: Squandering Most of a Massive Budget Surplus on Tax Breaks for Millionaires Robs Wisconsin of So Much

By Pat Kreitlow
June 23, 2023

Republicans in the Legislature didn’t surprise anyone by taking the most fiscally irresponsible position possible with $7 billion, but it still stings to see how a win-win deal was right in front of them and then rejected.

Something never felt quite right—from the first time we learned we were coming out of the worst of the COVID pandemic with not only a recovering economy but actually a budget surplus. It should have been the starting point of bipartisanship unequaled in our lifetimes, with leaders of all political stripes delivering a state budget focused on the future.

Instead, we’re left with a bunch of zeros and a fractured present that looks exactly like the Wisconsin Legislature’s recent past.

Zero dollars to save a program that was keeping childcare centers afloat and stemming further losses in an already depleted workforce.

Zero dollars to finally strengthen BadgerCare and provide stable, affordable health insurance coverage to more working families.

Zero dollars to speed up the expansion of broadband, a lifeline for our rural economy and more.

Zero dollars for family and medical leave, for free school lunches and breakfasts, for a higher minimum wage, for keeping the Brewers in Milwaukee, for increased customer service at state agencies.

And for our state’s crown jewel, the University of Wisconsin System, less than zero—an actual cut in funding because of a Republican temper tantrum about UW support for bringing communities together and helping hard-working students overcome racial barriers to equal opportunities. 

Nobody was expecting Republicans to embrace everything proposed by Gov. Tony Evers. A Democratic governor and Republican legislators are bound to have differences over how your hard-earned tax dollars should be spent. But to blow most of the surplus on tax cuts significantly geared to benefit Wisconsin’s wealthiest households is more than a difference of opinion, it’s an outright waste—squandering so much in order to pander to so few. 

It’s a political game that used to work in the past. But nobody with any serious examination of the past can say that “trickle-down economics” is what our state needed. It’s never worked. It never will. The best fiscal path forward would have been smart, targeted investments—with plenty of surplus left over to cut taxes for working families. The bipartisan potential was limitless.

Instead, we have a budget bill written so that people making more than $1 million will get an extra $30,000 per year over the current tax brackets. Families with incomes of about $40,000 to $50,000 a year, meanwhile, would save a paltry $88.

Whatever the amount of individual savings, Republicans will again make the claim that “the average person can spend their money better than the government.” No, that’s never been true. The average person didn’t fill any potholes today. You, an average person, probably didn’t teach history or English today to a classroom of energetic 5th graders. You probably didn’t do anything today that ensures the water coming out of our taps is safe. 

Most average Wisconsinites want their tax dollars used wisely. Teach the children. Fix the roads. Keep the water clean. Don’t let families go bankrupt for lack of affordable health insurance. The list of what responsible taxpayers actually support is long and strong and good for our state. Instead, we see an unprecedented opportunity fading away.

It’s what some of us suspected when the surplus first materialized. It’s never felt like Republicans were going to make serious investments in our state’s future. It always felt more like a heist was being planned. 

And now Republicans are about to clean out the vault.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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