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FROSTMAN COLUMN: Two minutes for your two cents on the budget

FROSTMAN COLUMN: Two minutes for your two cents on the budget

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You’ve got two minutes with the Joint Committee on Finance of the Wisconsin Legislature, the committee tasked with the heavy lifting regarding the two-year budget proposed by Gov. Tony Evers.

What would you say to the committee? What would you say to Gov. Evers?

This week kicks off public hearings around the state, as the review process continues. The first hearing will be held Friday at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Budget listening sessions will also be held April 21 in Rhinelander, April 22 in Menomonie, with a final virtual listening session on April 28.

The state’s budget cycle starts on July 1, so ideally, a budget is signed and in place by the end of June. While we would all hope a budget can be passed in a timely manner, if all the parties involved can’t pass a budget by the end of June, the current budget protocols continue.

There’s not much to like and much to oppose in the governor’s offerings. A Feb. 17 WISN-12 story summed up, “The budget increases taxes over two years by about $1.6 billion and reduces them by about $590 million, for a net increase of around $1 billion.”

I commented several weeks ago after the governor’s address. More details became available as time progressed, and a nice summary was offered in a Feb. 16, WisPolitics review.

A number of non-fiscal policy items were included, to “require background checks on all firearm sales and creation of a red-flag gun law.” In the budget? In deference to the pot-loving crowd, Evers in once again proposing legalizing recreational marijuana.

For nearly a decade, farmers and manufacturers have benefitted from the now-fully implemented Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit. Evers is proposing to “restrict the credit for manufacturers to $300,000 per tax year. The change would raise an additional $487.4 million over the biennium.” This is a blow to industries both small and large racked by all the restrictions and limitations imposed this past year. Other costs like lumber have skyrocketed.

Evers once again fails to understand higher taxes and costs incurred by businesses will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

The governor’s budget allows counties to double their current sales tax. A Feb. 12 WTMJ-TV story reviewed details. “Wisconsin’s current sales tax is 5%. Under current law, counties have the ability to impose an increase of 0.5%. As of now, 68 of 72 counties have enacted the 0.5% county sales tax.” Evers’ budget proposal would allow counties to increase their own sales tax another 0.5%, and allow municipalities another 0.5%. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett “applauded” Evers proposal. That could mean a sales tax of up to 6.5% total in those locations approving. The governor’s proposal would require any increases to be approved by local referendums.

Sales taxes are very regressive, meaning those earning lower incomes pay a disproportionate share of the taxes. Lower income earners spend a larger percentage of their disposable income, therefore having a larger proportion of their purchases subjected to sales taxes. If you’re looking for a way to generate more revenue from those with less, a sales tax is a good way to do it. I staunchly oppose this passing of the buck, quite literally, by Evers.

Evers, the former State Superintendent of Schools, is proposing a big increase in public school spending totaling $1.6 billion, while he proposes freezing enrollment in all the choice programs. He wants to complete the return to the “two-thirds” funding from the state which started under Gov. Tommy Thompson, and as many Democrats seem to forget, was abandoned in the first budget from former Gov. Jim Doyle. The WPR broadcast of Feb. 16, also mentioned “Evers was proposing the largest overall increase in university spending in the past two decades.”

There is so much more not to like about the nearly 10% overall increase in spending over the next two years, it will be a great challenge to fit it all into two minutes. We simply can’t afford all this new spending, particularly in light of all the challenges faced by both individuals and businesses in this past year.

Fortunately, our swath of South Central Wisconsin is well represented on the JCF, starting with Assembly Chairman Mark Born of Beaver Dam, and Senate Chairman Howard Marklein of Spring Green.

As with the first Evers budget, this proposal will likely be torn apart by Republicans and replaced by a proposal that both Democrats and Republicans can embrace to move the state toward more robust recovery and growth by limiting the growth of government spending and taxation. Talking to the committee would be two minutes you’d never forget.

Scott Frostman lives in Baraboo, and has roots throughout Wisconsin. Opinions herein are exclusively his own. He believes anyone can make a difference and can be reached at scfrostman@gmail.com.

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