MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin State Republicans are calling a new proposal to get more money to local governments historic. The plan aims to address mounting frustration over Wisconsin's shared revenue structure as communities face higher costs.
During a news conference Thursday morning, Assembly Republicans say with this bipartisan proposal, every community in Wisconsin will see a minimum increase of 10 percent in shared revenue.
Lawmakers say changes include transferring 20 percent or 1 cent of the sales tax into a segregated account dedicated to local governments. In addition, $50 million in new money would go to counties, based on a new distribution formula. $176 million would go towns, villages, and cities.
State Rep. Tony Kurtz says communities that were left behind when the shared revenue formula was frozen will get a bigger bump.
"So if the state does well, our locals are going to do well, and I think that's a key point. The current formula for the shared avenue has been frozen since 2004. Our locals have not shared in the growth of that our state has had now they will be tied to the growth in our sales tax," said Kurtz.
There are provisions. $227 million needs to go to core services such as fire, police, emergency medical services, public works and transportation. Lawmakers did not answer questions about plans for Milwaukee, and pushed to a later news conference.
In addition, there is a $300 million pilot program to incentivize municipalities to share services such as IT or human resources. If they do that and save money then the state will pitch in for three years to make the transition.
"I think while there has been momentum for some type of solution on local government aid, we don't quite know if it's going to be enough," Anthony Chergosky said.
Chergosky is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Leaders from Beaver Dam, Watertown, and Town of Bristol thanked lawmakers at the news conference and shed light on their financial challenges.
"The possibility that that revenue will grow as sales tax grows that's a positive thing for us. Our emergency services costs have gone from $100,000 15 years ago to $400,000," said Town of Bristol chair Jerry Derr.
State Rep. Kurtz says they need to make some changes before they release details on paper. That's expected next week.
Shared Revenue for Milwaukee
According to WisPolitics, the Wisconsin Assembly's shared revenue plan would allow the county of Milwaukee to add 0.375 percent to its sales tax and the city of Milwaukee a new 2 percent sales tax. Both would need to be approved by a referendum. If approved, that would bring the maximum sales tax rate to 7.875% in the city and 5.875% elsewhere in Milwaukee County.
Mayor Johnson, who has made this a paramount issue in his short time in office, said most of those city tax funds will go toward paying off pension debts.
"The increase that we will receive from the sales tax will put us in a position where we're able to take care of our unfunded liabilities in our pension and provide opportunities for us to have additional dollars to be able to invest in public safety," said Johnson at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
He estimates that tax will bring $120 million to filling that hole in pension funding.
The proposal also dedicates one penny of the state's 5-cent sales tax to shared revenue, according to WisPolitics. The additional funds come with strings attached, the outlet notes, earmarking new funds for public safety, public works and transportation; as well as limits on the ability of local governments to regulate quarries.
Legislators say there's still some work to be done before the bill is complete, but County Executive David Crowley is cautiously optimistic.
"After nearly 20 years of stagnation we are making progress on meeting the needs of communities all across Milwaukee County."
Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu issued a statement Thursday, saying the final details are still being worked out:
“Over the last few months there have been substantive, good-faith negotiations between both houses of the legislature and local government stakeholders from across the state. The Assembly announcement today is the product of those negotiations; however the final details are still being worked out. The Senate is looking forward to continuing to find a responsible way to make a generational investment in local governments throughout the state.”
Right now, Milwaukee is facing a massive $156 million budget gap for 2024 with the city asking different community resources like the fire department how these cuts could affect their workforce. The police department also outlined how they might be impacted by big cuts.
That plan that GOP lawmakers are proposing could help ease some of the city's concerns, but Chief Aaron Lipski says if the cuts do happen, the public will definitely feel it.
Right now, MFD could see cuts ranging between 10 to 25 percent. Chief Lipski says a worst-case 25 percent cut would mean reducing fire stations from 29 to 18 and on-duty firefighters would drop from 192 to 117. This, he says, would cause more strain on an already busy department.
Along with that plan for expanded state revenue sharing, which is expected to be announced this afternoon, the city says it also wants state approval to levy its own sales tax to boost revenue.
@TheTable: Is Wisconsin on the brink of big changes in shared revenue?
By Charles Benson, April 26, 2023
Is Wisconsin on the brink of a big change in shared revenue? For decades the gap has been staggering.
Republican lawmakers are expected to announce plans to increase shared revenue during a series of news conferences around the state Thursday.
A 2022 report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum illustrates the issue local communities are dealing with.
State income tax collections have more than tripled since the early 1990s to more than $9 billion in 2021, while shared revenue payments to fund local governments have actually gone down.
"What we have here really is a clear and present danger. The city of Milwaukee is one of the few cities in the United States that doesn't have access to a sales tax. They have a budget crisis, that’s real," said Tim Sheehy president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “What I hope we hear tomorrow ( Thursday) is a clear and present answer to that.
Sheehy was a guest on @TheTable Wednesday night as state Republican leaders prepare to announce a "bipartisan shared revenue proposal" Thursday to increase state aid to local communities, according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' office.
In addition to a much-needed shared revenue increase, Sheehy wants to hear what lawmakers have to say about a sales tax increase to help the growing financial needs of the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.
Milwaukee says it is facing heavy pensions obligations that have forced budget cuts over the years to city services.
Sheehy believes a bump in the sales tax for the city and county would help pay for services.
"What it means for taxpayers is that we're going to be able to address Milwaukee's pension problems which are which are large, but more importantly, that the city is going to be able to deliver and the county is going to be able to deliver the services that we all use, public safety, police and fire, parks."
Governor Tony Evers's 2023-25 budget proposal also includes a big increase in share to local governments and he would allow a local sales tax increase if approved by taxpayers in a referendum.
Any budget proposal would have to work its way through the Republican-controlled legislature before reaching the Governor's desk.
"I'm hoping tomorrow that we hear that we're 90% on the way there," said Sheehy.
Charles Benson and Shannon Sims interview key people in our community during TMJ4's @TheTable segment every weeknight at 10 p.m.
Wisconsin GOP leader wants income tax cut for all taxpayers
By The Associated Press, April 27, 2023
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The leader of the Wisconsin Senate said Tuesday that Republicans who control the Legislature remain in favor of cutting income taxes for all income earners, even if there is not enough support for his plan that would phase in a flat tax rate.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu told reporters that he had no “line in the sand” of what he would support, but wanted to pass something that would lower rates for everyone. LeMahieu said he thought there was enough support to pass the first two years of his plan, which cuts taxes for all brackets but does not fully implement a flat rate.
“Generally, both caucuses are supportive of reducing all taxes,” LeMahieu said of Senate and Assembly Republicans after testifying in support of his flat tax plan.
That proposal has run into bipartisan opposition, with Gov. Tony Evers and Democrats firmly against it and even other top Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, saying it's likely not going to happen this year.
“We haven’t ruled it out either," Vos told reporters Tuesday. "It’s certainly a long-term goal we can all agree with.”
Both sides are in agreement that some of the state’s record-high $7 billion projected budget surplus should be tapped to cut taxes. They have yet to coalesce around what that would look like.
Evers is pushing for tax cuts targeting low- and middle-income earners, while Republicans who control the Legislature are eyeing other alternatives. Democrats generally oppose the flat tax because it would result in much higher tax cuts for wealthy people.
Vos said last week that talks were ongoing. It's expected to be a major piece of the two-year state budget that the Legislature will likely pass sometime in June and that takes effect in July.
LeMahieu on Tuesday called his flat tax measure a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to make generational tax reform given the state’s high surplus.
“This will make Wisconsin more competitive, more affordable and stronger,” LeMahieu testified before the Senate revenue committee.
Wisconsin’s total tax burden, which is total taxes measured as a share of personal income, fell to its lowest point in more than 50 years in 2022, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum. It also found that that in recent years, Wisconsin income tax rates have declined more for higher income earners than they have for those with lower incomes.
Overall, however, when compared to national averages, rates in Wisconsin are higher for higher incomes and lower for lower incomes.
LeMahieu set the marker for Republicans with the most conservative tax cut proposal. It would do away with Wisconsin's progressive income tax and replace it with a flat 3.25% rate by 2026. That would cost the state nearly $5 billion in lost tax revenue over the next two years.
For taxpayers, the average tax decrease would be $4,415 over the four-year phase-in period and about $1,800 a year after that, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
That bill, along with one doing away with a tax that businesses pay on furnishings and equipment, were both heard by the Senate revenue committee on Tuesday. Evers and Republicans have both supported doing away with that personal property tax, but haven't agreed on exactly how to do it.
Evers' budget proposal included a 10% income tax cut for individuals making $100,000 or less a year and married filers making $150,000 or less. His plan also calls for increasing capital gains taxes and limiting how much companies can claim in manufacturing and agriculture tax credits.
His plan would also cap copays for insulin at $35, repeal the state’s minimum markup law in an attempt to lower gas prices, cut taxes for seniors on fixed incomes, expand property tax relief for veterans with disabilities, and attempt to lower the cost of caregiving and child care.
Republicans are expected to scrap all of those proposals.
Last week, a pair of Assembly Republicans introduced another tax cut proposal that attempts to strike a middle ground between the Evers and LeMahieu plans. That bill would cut rates for the state’s four income tax brackets over several years, ultimately resulting in no taxes for the lowest earners and 4.5% for everyone else.
That plan is expected to reduce state tax collections by about $3.5 billion a year once fully implemented.
The last state budget, passed by the Republican Legislature and signed by Evers, cut income taxes by more than $1 billion.
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