Legislative Republicans Push Tighter Budget, Downplay Surplus

Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders downplayed the state’s record budget surplus Wednesday, even as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has pushed for massive spending increases on K-12 education, tax cuts and funding for local governments.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos cautioned that much of the state’s projected $7 billion surplus is one-time money that he said shouldn’t be used to fund new programs or ongoing expenses. Evers has proposed a range of uses for the money, from subsidizing repairs at the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium to creating a three-month paid leave program for most workers.

“We do not have anywhere near the money that Gov. Evers spoke about yesterday,” Vos said at a Wisconsin Counties Association event as he tried to temper expectations for what local governments would receive in the budget.

At the same event on Tuesday, Evers promised tax cuts for the middle class and additional funding for local governments — plans that Vos said relied on “phony math.”

Vos said Republicans would tie more funding for local governments to requirements on how it could be spent.

He and Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, who together lead the GOP-controlled Legislature, advocated for using the surplus to enact tax cuts for payers at all income levels. Co-chairs of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee said Tuesday that LeMahieu’s plan for a flat income tax rate was unlikely to be included in the budget, but Republicans view such a tax as a long-term goal.

Vos cited estimates that the state’s recurring revenue will increase by $1.2 billion over the next two years. He told county officials that about 75% of that money would be needed to continue funding Medicaid programs and wage increases for prison guards that Evers supported with federal pandemic aid.