The Legislature’s top Dem leaders in a WisPolitics.com luncheon voiced support for Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposals to raise the minimum wage and allow for expanded local sales taxes.
Evers’ budget proposes raising the state $7.25 minimum wage in three steps to $10.15 an hour on January 2, 2024, and then indexing it for inflation. The budget also calls for the creation of a task force to study raising it to $15 an hour.
Evers’ budget would also allow counties to add an additional half-cent sales tax and municipalities of at least 30,000 people to implement a new one. The additional sales tax would have to be approved by voters through a referendum.
Republicans have rejected both of those ideas and intend to craft a budget of their own.
Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, said Wisconsinites have been asking for an increased minimum wage for several years, adding “we need to do something about the minimum wage period, we need to do it.”
She also said the $10.15 Evers proposed might not be the increase to $15 an hour that some of her Dem colleagues want.
“We know that not everybody is going to get exactly what we want, but heck, we get what we need,” Bewley said.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said there needs to be some regional discretion on where and how much to increase the minimum, but that amount needs to be raised to account for inflation.
Hintz added a minimum wage increase could benefit hundreds of thousands of workers, “not just those that are at the minimum wage, but who are near the minimum wage that certainly would benefit from that ripple effect increase.”
Both leaders also voiced support for Evers’ local sales tax proposal.
Bewley said raising those taxes would give local municipalities a new revenue source during a time when many local governments are hurting for money.
She added allowing municipalities to raise their local sales tax could be a way for local governments to backfill revenue losses if GOP proposals like eliminating the personal property tax are enacted.
“I do believe if we go to having the personal property tax removed we do have to figure out a way to make the communities whole so that they do not lose that revenue,” she said.
“I think there needs to be a serious discussion of what the consequences are, especially when we don’t allow for local revenue options,” Hintz said. “And people that are promoting the local property tax repeal probably want to get behind some of the governor’s proposals for local option revenues.”
Bewley said state schools should be allowed to decide when they can safely reopen for in-person classes, not the state.
“I think every day that we’re getting closer” to reopening schools, especially as more teachers are getting vaccinated, the northern Wisconsin Dem said.
She said most Wisconsinites want kids to return to schools, but that will take some time before it happens and more effort for communities to make sure that reopening is done safely.
Hintz added parents who rely on schools to care for their kids during the day have been dramatically impacted as they now have to act as teachers for those kids.
He also said improving ventilation systems in older school buildings across the state would be a way to ensure those schools can reopen safely, but the state should not force every school to reopen.
“I don’t think you can mandate it or force it or pick arbitrary dates when the condition on the ground is very different,” he said. “Their resources are different, the density of their population is different and I think that those are the things that are often overlooked by people who just want it over or want this one size fits all.”
He said a lot of people overlook those differences, “but all of us want the same thing,” and if people can practice safe social distancing, those schools can reopen even sooner.
Hintz said Republican efforts to change election laws in the state are disappointing, adding misinformation about elections in Wisconsin has created a lot of fear over how elections are run.
“It seems to be the decision that’s being made here is that people believe President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party, that there’s enough people that believe the big lie, and they’re going to continue to perpetuate it by putting proposals out there that are aimed at changing this and making it harder for people to vote,” Hintz said.
Hintz said the House passage of their bill to change election laws yesterday worked to make voting easier and reduce barriers for a lot of disenfranchised voters.
Bewley said the public should have faith in all areas of government, adding government has demonstrated “time and time again that there is no reason to doubt.”
Bewley described Republican attempts to change state election laws as a distraction from other issues.
“I just believe they’re wrong for doing it, they’re not going to accomplish it. Let’s get on with the really important business of the state and get to work, pass the things we need to do. Let’s get to work on the budget, but we just can’t be distracted by things that do not need to be done and are fixing a problem that doesn’t exist,” Bewley said.
She added that legislators don’t need to change election laws regarding how local clerks manage their elections.
“I think clerks are doing something that is truly the backbone of American democracy. They take their work very seriously,” she said. “We need to believe that the system is working and we do not need to have the energy and the effort to convince people that something is going wrong.”
Hintz added it’s unlikely an electric car production project pitched by Foxconn will happen considering the reputations of the companies involved.
He said Fisker and Foxconn’s track records of failing to fulfill their business promises make it hard for him to see how either company will fulfill their promises on the electric cars.
“It’s hard to take the company seriously at this point,” Hintz said of Foxconn.
Fisker filed for bankruptcy in July 2020.