By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Assembly Republicans proposed a plan on Thursday to reduce incomes taxes by $340 million, a proposal they said would give Gov. Tony Evers a “fantastic” opportunity to fulfill one of his top campaign promises.
To reduce taxes by that much, though, Republicans want to spend down the state’s budget surplus rather than follow Evers’ preferred option — scaling back a tax break offered mainly to farmers and manufacturers. Evers will now have to decide if he will accept the deal on Republicans’ terms.
Separately, Republican lawmakers were also moving quickly on Thursday to pass a bill designed to guarantee insurance coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions, even though Evers has said he is opposed to that proposal.
The two issues pose early tests for Evers and the Republicans who control the Legislature as they jockey for position and try to get the upper hand early in the governor’s first term. State government is under divided control for the first time in more than a decade.
Evers campaigned on lowering income taxes by 10 percent for the middle class. And he wants to pay for that reduction by nearly eliminating the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit program, a Republican priority signed into law by former Gov. Scott Walker.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said at a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday that “we’ll see how serious” Evers is about wanting to work together to reduce taxes. Evers’ spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald signaled general support for the idea.
“With another budget surplus this year, we can once again prioritize lowering taxes on families without raising taxes on small businesses and farmers,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Republicans are moving ahead quickly with a bill that would guarantee health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. The Assembly Health Committee planned to vote on Thursday to advance the measure, two days after a public hearing, setting up a vote before the full Assembly on Tuesday.
Vos said he wanted to pass the bill on the first day lawmakers were in session. Later that same day, Evers is scheduled to deliver his first State of the State speech.
Vos said that Republicans, in introducing their tax proposal now, are giving Ever a “fantastic chance” to announce his support for the plan in his State of the State speech. He said Republicans are setting a priority on income taxes and health insurance because they see those as issues that present room for compromise with Evers, Vos said.
But Evers earlier this week signaled his opposition to the pre-existing conditions bill, saying he would only sign a proposal offering protections that equal or exceed those provided by the Affordable Care Act already does. Evers has criticized the Republican proposal for offering protections that would be narrower than the existing ones found in federal law.
Supporters of the GOP proposal argue that there’s no reason to oppose putting in place state protections, which would only take effect if the Affordable Care Act were repealed. But opponents say the proposal wouldn’t work as planned unless other parts of the federal law, including those designed to keep down costs, are also in place.
“The bill is just window dressing and no substitute for the ACA,” said Bobby Peterson, an attorney at ABC for Health, a group that advocates for poor people.