Republican leaders signaled they’re willing to work with Dem Gov. Tony Evers on tax cuts plus funding for schools and local governments after the recently reelected guv called them.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu alongside Assembly Speaker Robin Vos at a luncheon Tuesday at the Madison Club said they’re working on a time to speak with Evers about what they can accomplish in the upcoming session. Both said Evers had recently left voicemails looking for a time to talk, and Vos said he spoke with the guv for five minutes on the phone.

“Which was good because that was five minutes more than in the past two years,” Vos, of Rochester, said.

The longest-serving speaker in Wisconsin history also said “our first priority would be cutting taxes as much as we possibly can, while still funding core services.”

While Evers has said he wants to use the state’s projected $6.6 billion revenue surplus to offer a tax rebate, LeMahieu said the guv will have to find another way to return the funds to taxpayers if he wants the Legislature’s approval.

“I think if we can get some big wins, we can also give on some issues and find some of that common ground in negotiation,” LeMahieu, of Oostburg, said. “You know, I don’t want to be sitting here in four years with $30 billion in surplus, because we can’t get anything done for the next step.”

LeMahieu said he still wants to move toward a flat tax and opposes lowering taxes just for the lowest brackets. Eliminating the personal property tax is a good start that would make Wisconsin more attractive compared to neighboring states, he added.

Evers said last week his budget will propose cutting taxes for the middle class similar to what he’s proposed in the past. The guv also said he can’t envision signing a budget that cuts the top income tax rate, which is 7.65 percent and applies to income above $376,400.

Vos also said he wants to change tax codes to make Wisconsin more appealing to young and older people so they stop leaving the state. He said that kind of change would help attract more residents to the state, which would also help address Wisconsin’s workforce shortage.

“I think that is a huge problem demographically for Wisconsin,” he said. “Because we know that when somebody moves and leaves Wisconsin as a resident, rarely do they come back until they are sick and in need of services.”

Vos also signaled he’d be willing to find a way to increase revenue for municipalities like Milwaukee struggling to fund public services, but he said “revenue without reform isn’t going to happen.”

“So I’m waiting, and I’ve been saying this over and over: I am waiting for the reform proposals that get matched with new revenue,” he said. “But it almost always focuses (on) ‘just give us the revenue and we’ll figure that out later,’ as they create goofy positions inside government, as they do all this (diversity, equity and inclusion) mumbo jumbo; all this stuff that is clearly not a core function of government.”

School funding is another area in which the two signaled their willingness to work with Evers, but pressed for universal school choice legislation.

Vos said stopping public schools from blocking students who want to transfer from one public school to another would bring Wisconsin closer to the kind of system Republicans have been seeking.

“Well, if it’s good enough to go from one public school to another, and we’ve already accepted that school choice is settled law, I don’t know why we couldn’t say pick any school that you want, public or private,” Vos said.

Watch the luncheon here:

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