Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week. I’m still waiting.
I have been trying to be patient. Truly, I have. But what is going on with the Republicans in the state Legislature?
The state has been projecting a major budget surplus for some time. At the beginning of the year, it was expected to be about $7.1 billion. At last count, they have lowered that forecast to about $6.9 billion. In either case, it is a lot of money. It is a lot of money forcibly confiscated from Wisconsinites through taxation far and above what the government budgeted to fund the state government with all of its girth.
When confronted with a pile of unspent cash, politicians are incapable of resisting their desires to spend it. The Democrats are ideologically consistent in this regard. They believe that more government is better government, so any time they can find an excuse to make government bigger, they are going to seize it.
Republicans have an imperfect record in this regard, but they are certainly better than the Democrats. Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans have been quite good in the last decade in lowering taxes. During the election last year when the state was already projecting a significant surplus, the Republicans were once again touting the benefits of smaller, less expensive government. They were right, of course, so one could expect them to give the surplus back to the taxpayers, right? Right!? Since the beginning of the year some five full months hence, there have been quite a few proposals from the Republicans. As discussed in this column last week, the Assembly has proposed an aggressive increase in the money the state sends to local and county governments in the state’s shared revenue program. That proposal also includes a bailout plan for the government pension plans for Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee. It does this partially by allowing the city and county governments to increase local sales taxes.
The Senate Republican leadership seems to support a spending increase in the shared revenue program and a bailout for Milwaukee, but is tepid about allowing voters a voice on the sales tax increase. Evers and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu seem united in allowing Milwaukee’s local governments to jack up taxes without asking the voters first. The Republicans and Democrats seem united in wanting a spending increase and a bailout. They agree in principle. Now they are just bickering over the mechanics.
Governor Evers and the Republican leaders also seem united in wanting the taxpayers to pay for an upgrade to American Family Field. Evers wants to spend about $400 million with almost no strings attached. Speaker Robin Vos wants to spend a bit less and on the condition that the Brewers extend their lease for a substantial term. Once again, Republicans and Democrats are united in spending.
To his credit, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu has proposed a flat income tax to replace the state’s progressive income tax scheme. As proposed, a flat tax would reduce future income taxes by about $5 billion. The proposal would not give the surplus back to the taxpayers, but it would be a substantial tax decrease.
Unfortunately, Evers has already promised to veto LeMahieu’s flat-tax proposal and Vos has been unable or unwilling to rally Republican support for it in the Assembly. The Assembly Republicans have not offered any alternative proposals to lower taxes or give the surplus back.
I ask again, what is going on with the Republicans in the state Legislature? The state has been projecting a major surplus for over a year. The voters returned the Republicans to the state Legislature with even larger majorities than they had the previous session. Those Republicans have had six months since that election to come up with a plan to return the surplus to the taxpayers. Most of those Republicans were in the legislature last session and have had even more time to contemplate.
Where is the Republican plan — coordinated and supported by Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature — to return the budget surplus? Where is the refund? Where is the systemic tax reform? Milwaukee did not elect those Republican majorities. The Brewers did not elect those Republican majorities. Local governments did not elect those Republican majorities.
Plain, old grassroots Republicans elected those Republican majorities, and it is past time for those elected Republicans to deliver on their promises of smaller government. We have been patient long enough.