Evers vetoes GOP-authored $250M income tax cut

Associated Press
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald rejected Gov. Evers' call for compromise after the governor vetoed a GOP sponsored tax cut.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a Republican-authored $250 million income tax bill on Wednesday at an elementary school in Wauwatosa, arguing that the Legislature should instead work with him on a compromise that includes more money for education.

But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald flatly rejected that call.

"There's no time for compromise right now," Fitzgerald said, noting that the Assembly adjourned last week for the year. The Senate plans to meet just one more time in about a month.

In rejecting his call to compromise, Fitzgerald took a dig at Evers, the former state superintendent for education. Fitzgerald said that Evers has a "soft spot" for schools and increasing funding for them will come at the expense of other needs and that will be his "Achilles heel."

Evers proposed spending $250 million on K-12 schools, with $130 million to reduce property taxes. In ignoring his plan, Republicans said increasing funding for schools will be part of the debate over the next state budget in 2021.

"Look, I get it," Evers said of the rejection of his school plan. "Republicans are more concerned about the perception of giving a Democratic governor a win than getting things done. Politics plain and simple."

Evers and the Legislature put forward the two plans in the wake of news that Wisconsin is expected to have a  $620 million budget surplus by mid-2021. Republicans pushed for the tax cut, saying the higher-than-expected tax collections should be returned to people who paid them. Evers said the surplus instead should be tapped to help schools pay for addressing mental health and special education needs, cut property taxes, send more aid to the most rural schools and have the state provide two-thirds funding.

"We cannot ignore the fact that our kids and our educators and our schools continue to be stretched too thin," Evers said. "I don't care who gets the credit, I just know the people of our state deserve elected officials who get things done and funding our schools and reducing property taxes should be something we agree on."

Evers vetoed the tax cut bill, the 12th his vetoed as governor, in the school library surrounded by Democratic lawmakers.

The tax cut plan Evers vetoed would have cost $392 million. The nearly $250 million income tax cut would have sent an average of $106 back to every qualifying taxpayer in an election year. It also reduced business taxes by nearly $45 million and trimmed state debt by $100 million.

The GOP tax cut bill passed the Senate 19-14 with all Republicans in support and Democrats against last week. In the Assembly it passed 65-34, with two Democrats joining all Republicans in support. That's just one vote short of the 66 that would be needed to override the veto, but the Assembly does not have plans to meet again this year. Four previous attempts to override Evers vetoes have failed in the Assembly. Even if they were to succeed, three Democrats would have to switch sides.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos left open the possibility of a veto override vote, saying the Assembly will "likely" return in May to consider overrides only, not debate bills.

A bill that would have updated Wisconsin's livestock siting law never made it to the floor for a vote. The collaborative piece of legislation would have changed the process for approving and regulating CAFO farms siting and expansion.

Republican lawmakers aimed to create a new panel, consisting of agriculture groups, that would have to give its stamp of approval before the state would proceed. Unfortunately, at the eleventh hour without a unanimous consensus among the stakeholders, legislators balked at bringing a bill to the floor without full support.

Farmers and other self-employed taxpayers will have to wait until the Senate reconvenes next month to see if tax cuts totaling $36 million a year will come to fruition along with other measures designed to help the state's struggling dairy industry. 

A bill passing the Assembly to prohibit the labeling of food as meat, milk or dairy if it doesn't contain those products will also face the scrutiny of the Senate in late March.

Colleen Kottke of the Wisconsin State Farmer contributed to this report.