Republicans have proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars on shared revenue, but are oddly silent on how much of the COVID relief surplus they plan to give back to taxpayers.
May 24, 2032
Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
“You know, a town with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel—no one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!” con man Lyle Lanley exclaims in perhaps the most famous episode of The Simpsons.
As everyone else in Springfield chuckles, Homer looks around confused before finally getting what he thinks is the punchline.
“Heh heh, mule,” he laughs.
One could forgive Wisconsinites for thinking Republicans who control their Legislature are both a little bit like that mule and Homer Simpson: Danged if they know how to use properly use $7 billion worth of COVID relief-fueled budget surplus but they are chuckling nervously as they fritter a large chunk of it away.
Just be glad they aren’t buying Milwaukee a monorail.
They are, however, suspiciously quiet about just how much of that surplus they actually plan to return to taxpayers. During this year’s budget process, Republicans have considered spending $290 million on American Family Field repairs and untold hundreds of millions more on a separate shared revenue bill but have not once outlined precisely how much of the people’s money they want to return to the people.
In January, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu proposed moving Wisconsin to a flat 3.25% income tax rate but conceded that such a plan would be unlikely to be included in the new biennial budget. What is? If the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are worthy of a substantial portion of the state’s unearned largesse to save them from their own ruinous pension decisions, then certainly overtaxed Wisconsin residents are as well.
According to the Tax Foundation, Wisconsin pays the eighth-highest property taxes as a percentage of owner-occupied home value in the country. Its state and local tax burden is the 18th highest. Even after Republicans’ 2021 budget provided a record $2 billion in tax relief, Wisconsin is one of the highest-taxed states in the country.
In 2023, Republicans have a unique opportunity to change that. They can go bigger, bolder, and provide the sort of generational change that most politicians can only dream of. They can head off Governor Lyle Lanley’s efforts to waste the budget surplus and instead return it to the taxpayers who rightfully own it.
That is, after all, the fundamental tenet of fiscal conservatism, isn’t it? Public revenue is by definition that which is taken from the people to fund the necessary functions of government. Any money that exceeds this should therefore be returned to the people in the form of tax relief. Danged if government knows how to use it.
But use it the Legislature feels it must—not on tax relief in any meaningful sense, but on stadium repairs and pension bailouts. Wisconsin already has a big-spending party that turned years of surpluses into catastrophic deficits and the Democrats are doing just fine, thank you very much. Why do Republicans want so badly to emulate them?
If Republicans feel they must save Milwaukeeans from their governments’ mistakes, why are they intent on lining the coffers of those very same governments while all but ignoring the people whose money they will again waste?
It’s time for the GOP to again be the party of tax cuts and fiscal sanity and present a real plan for tax relief instead of giving charlatans more money for a monorail.