Assembly Speaker Robin Vos at a Wisconsin Counties Association event sought to lower local government expectations for more money this budget cycle.
During a roundtable with other leggie leaders Wednesday, the Rochester Republican blasted Dem Gov. Tony Evers’ budget for using “phony math.” He argued there’s nowhere near enough revenue to fund Evers’ proposals, even just on K-12 spending. He also tried to lower the expectations of local government groups looking for more state funds.
“I think at the end of the day, we will try to prioritize the increases in local government spending,” he said. “But if I was sitting here and speaking to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, they’re going to want an increase in spending too. And if I were talking to the Wisconsin Towns Association, they would like more money as well.”
Senate Minority Leader. Melissa Agard stressed the need to increase shared revenue funding for local governments this cycle, arguing “we have cut to the bone.”
The Madison Dem said many of her constituents have urged her to boost municipal and county government funding because current models are not sustainable. Agard added communities are cutting public safety, mental health and other resources as they work to balance their budgets with less money coming from the state than in the past.
“We’ve been cutting to the bone, and we do have a really unique opportunity now,” she said. “However it is that you do your math, we need to invest in our local communities.”
The two spoke alongside Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine.
Evers’ plan would dedicate 20 percent of future state tax collections to increase shared revenue by more than $576 million in the second year of the budget. He also called for allowing local governments to levy their own higher sales taxes.
Vos argued Evers’ budget would put Wisconsin in a more than $1 billion structural deficit within two years, leaving no money for new programs.
“Anybody think that’s realistic? It is not,” Vos said. “So I just wanted to start with a reality check on where the budget actually is.”
Signs of bipartisan consensus emerged on proposals to increase affordable housing and revise how Wisconsin funds transportation infrastructure.
Vos and Agard said they see at least some common ground for both parties when it comes to affordable housing because houses have just become too expensive. Vos argued for local governments to pare back regulations he says have increased the size and amenities of new housing past what’s affordable and necessary for many Wisconsinites.
“Absolutely everybody has got to have a sidewalk, you have to have a paved driveway,” Vos said, giving examples. “You have to mandate that you have to have a basement. We have to mandate, even some people now are saying you can’t have a gas stove. I mean, all these mandates are crazy. We have got to figure a way to hopefully reduce the cost of regulation.”
Said Agard: “I agree, we need to do something about housing in the state of Wisconsin.”
Both parties said the state needs to think about how it will fund transportation in the future as electric vehicles and other fossil fuel alternatives undercut Wisconsin’s gas tax revenue. Gas tax revenue is a major funding source for transportation maintenance and improvements.
Neubauer said “we do need to be creative, right.”
“I am one of those people who owns a hybrid, and there’s more of us every day,” she said. “And we recognize that this will put a strain on funding if we continue to rely on the gas tax as we have historically.”
Vos took the chance to again tout his tolling plan.
“Imagine if in 2013 when we first started talking about tolling, if Wisconsin had already implemented it statewide,” he said. “It would mean that our transportation system is fully funded. We have more money for local roads than we would today.”
Agard said she wants those conversations to center around how future generations will use transportation, as many younger people are taking longer to get their driver’s licenses and seek more public transit options.
“And I think it’s really quite important that we – yes fund our local governments and make sure that you all have the ability to take care of the roads that are currently there – but that we also think about how it is that we want to help people get around that meets them where they’re at and thinks about where we want to be in a decade or in two or three decades,” she said.
While the others signaled areas of compromise, LeMahieu drew a line in the sand over tax cuts and argued there’s not much room for bipartisanship in the budget.
“I might be a little pessimistic here, but – I mean everybody’s mentioning good things – we can’t just do a tax cut that’s a tax credit to some of the families of Wisconsin,” he said. “It has to be a tax cut for everybody.”
The Oostburg Republican earlier this year proposed moving Wisconsin to a flat tax of 3.25 percent over a four-year period. He said everybody understands crime, inflation and workforce housing are the three biggest issues the state faces.
“If I was king of Wisconsin, and we could get one thing done, it would be a responsible budget like we did the last two cycles, that the governor would sign again,” he said. “But after the budget that he put out there, it gives me pause that it might be hard to actually come to a solution.”
See coverage of a recent Competitive Wisconsin event on affordable housing in the state, including video of the discussion here.