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In his proposed state budget, Gov. Tony Evers included a net increase of over $1 billion in taxes, with tax breaks for the lower and middle classes and tax hikes for the wealthy and businesses.
Republicans scrapped that budget and wrote their own, which ultimately included a more than $2 billion tax cut package, the largest in state history. Evers signed it in July.
The tax cut was made possible in part by $4.4 billion in additional funds that state officials found out they were receiving in June.
Although Wisconsin Republicans passed a two-year budget that included $2 billion in tax cuts, they were quick to pounce on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers when he signed the measure in July.
The centerpiece of the $87.3 billion two-year spending plan was a reduction of the state’s third tax bracket to 5.3%, affecting about half of Wisconsin residents. At the time Evers signed the budget, he said it delivered on his campaign promise of a tax cut for middle-class families.
Ever’s proposed budget would have furthered several Democratic agenda items that Republicans have resisted, such as expanding Medicaid, legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage and repealing Act 10.
It also would have resulted in a net increase of $1 billion in taxes over two years, increasing taxes on businesses and the wealthy while providing tax breaks to the lower and middle classes.
State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, wanted to remind Wisconsinites of that when she tweeted an Aug. 25, 2021 article from the libertarian think tank Illinois Policy. That piece pointed out that while other Midwestern states had used higher state revenues to deliver tax cuts, Illinois had not.
"Just like Illinois’ governor, Wisconsin Governor Evers wanted to raise your taxes by $1 billion in a pandemic," Darling tweeted Aug. 31, 2021. "Republicans stopped him and delivered the largest tax CUT in state history."
Is Darling’s characterization of how it all happened right?
Let’s take a look at each segment of the claim.
As noted above, Darling is correct that Evers’s budget had included a net tax increase of $1 billion (albeit many would have received an individual cut).
The "in a pandemic" portion of the claim is crystal-clear: When Evers announced his budget, on Feb. 16, 2021, an average of 724 Wisconsinites per day were testing positive for COVID-19, according to data from the state health department. (That number is three times as high today, with an average of 2,110 new cases per day as of Sept. 17.)
PolitiFact Wisconsin rated True a claim in April from a Republican state representative who said Evers’ budget would raise taxes by more than $1 billion.
A March 24, 2021 memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted the governor’s budget changes would increase net taxes by nearly $465 million during fiscal year 2021-22 and nearly $556 million during fiscal year 2022-23.
And Republicans did, in fact, toss out his budget and write their own.
As for the last part of the claim, was this the largest tax cut in state history?
Darling spokesperson Bob Delaporte sent numbers from Legislative Fiscal Bureau tax and fee memos dating back to 1995, before which he said state budgets would not have had enough revenue to deliver more than a $2 billion tax cut.
Bob Lang, director of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, confirmed that there has never been a legislative act that reduced revenues in dollar terms as much as the most recent budget had.
So Darling’s last point is on target, too.
But there’s one significant asterisk to the budget action, and the subsequent maneuvering for credit and blame: State officials found out in June — in the midst of the budget process — that Wisconsin would take in $4.4 billion more in additional tax collections than expected.
At the time it was announced, Lang said it was an unprecedented increase.
The state was able to take in so much more money because wages and consumer spending had been much higher than anticipated. Republicans immediately argued the money should be delivered back to residents in the form of a tax cut.
But without the windfall, the historic tax cut could have only come if there were massive cuts in spending. And had Evers had the unexpected billions available when he crafted his budget in January, he may not have sought to raise taxes in the first place.
Darling claimed that Wisconsin Republicans stopped Evers from raising taxes by $1 billion and instead gave residents the largest tax cut in the state’s history.
Evers did plan to raise taxes by $1 billion, although his plan would have included tax cuts for lower-income Wisconsinites. And Republicans did include the largest tax cut in history in their version of the budget that passed in July.
But that tax cut was made possible in large part by an unexpected $4.4 billion that came up in the middle of the process — money Evers didn’t have available to him when he wrote his budget.
A rating of Mostly True indicates that the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
That fits here.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers signs Republican-written state budget that cuts income taxes, announces $100 million more for schools," July 8, 2021
Politifact Wisconsin, Evers-O-Meter on cutting middle-class income taxes by 10%, July 23, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin legislators pass state budget that would cut taxes and end UW's tuition freeze," June 29, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin budget battle begins: GOP lawmakers plan to remove hundreds of items from Gov. Tony Evers' proposal," May 5, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers proposes rollback of Act 10 in budget that boosts school spending by $1.6 billion and raises $1 billion in taxes," Feb. 16, 2021
Wisconsin Department of Health Services, COVID-19 case data, accessed Sept. 17, 2021
Politifact Wisconsin, "Yes, Evers’ budget increases Wisconsin taxes by more than $1 billion," April 6, 2021
Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "State Tax and Fee Modifications Included in the Governor's 2021-23 Budget Recommendations," March 24, 2021
Email exchange with Bob Lang, Legislative Fiscal Bureau director, Sept. 20, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin to receive an unprecedented $4.4 billion in additional tax collections over three years, new report shows," June 8, 2021
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