By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Wisconsin Legislature said Wednesday that they are looking at using some of a state surplus to reduce income and property taxes while also paying down debt, although the details of they what they might put forward remain in flux.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he agrees with Senate Republicans “in general” about what taxes to cut. Anything the Republican-controlled Legislature passes would have to be signed by Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law.
Evers and Democrats haven’t ruled out reducing taxes but have talked about paying for other priorities such as the University of Wisconsin, mental-health care for students and increasing access to health care.
“Hopefully we can put together something that makes sense here,” Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters after an appearance at the Wisconsin Counties Association annual meeting.
The Legislature is nearing the end of its two-year session. Both the Senate and Assembly are expected to meet on fewer than five days before the end of March. That is putting pressure on lawmakers to move forward with various matters, including deciding what to do with the state’s projected general-fund budget surplus of $450 million.
Republicans have talked about using the money to reduce taxes but haven’t released a plan.
Vos said Republicans wouldn’t spend “a huge amount of the surplus,” but they were looking at a variety of tax reductions. Vos told reporters after the panel that he’s concerned that Evers could “screw around with” a tax cut by altering it through the use of his broad partial veto powers and changing the intent of the Legislature.
“We have to be very careful in how we craft it,” he said.
The priority is paying for a tax cut that would have the biggest benefit possible for the state’s economy, he said.
A lot of tax-reduction proposals are being discussed. Assembly Republicans are looking at proposals to lower taxes paid by farmers but have yet to release a plan. Fitzgerald said there is a push from Republican Sen. Dale Kooyenga to reduce income taxes, but there’s also support among some Senate Republicans to lower the personal-property tax.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said whether Democrats would get behind a tax cut depends on how it’s structured, who it affects and how much it costs.
On other issues:
— Vos and Fitzgerald said they were hopeful a bill could pass to extend until 4 1.m. the hours bars could be open during the Democratic National Convention in July.
— Fitzgerald said he expects the Senate to pass anti-crime bills that Democrats have said could increase the state’s already overcrowded prison population. Vos said the bills will not include money to build a new prison, something he supports.
— Vos and Fitzgerald voiced support for moving Wisconsin’s presidential primary to earlier in the year than April 7, a proposal Republicans floated last year but did not debate. Hintz and Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling criticized the Iowa caucus amid its delay in reporting results. Evers on Tuesday called the Iowa caucus antiquated, saying it supproses the votes of people who can’t spend hours at a caucus meeting. But Vos said campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire has its merits.
“It might not be a perfect system, but the opportunity to have the presidency at the granular level, where you to actually talk to people, go to pancake breakfasts, do all the things we have to do, as opposed to raising a bunch of money and spending it on TV, I think that’s a positive for democracy,” Vos said.