Local lawmakers differ on spending state surplus

Posted March 23, 2022

Legislators in and around River Falls are prioritizing financial relief for Wisconsinites as they decide how to best utilize the state’s projected $3.8 billion budget surplus.

However, while both sides of the aisle are in agreement that Wisconsin families are struggling to contend with rising costs, there is no consensus on what the fiscal strategy should be.

State Rep. Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) said that Wisconsin is facing substantial workforce demands, defining the labor shortage as a “looming crisis.”

Zimmerman is advocating for using the surplus to ease the tax burden on Wisconsinites by “dramatically lowering the state income tax.” Considering how commonplace it is for Wisconsin residents along the Minnesota border to seek out work in the Twin Cities area, Zimmerman said he believes that a lower state income tax could help solve the labor issue by potentially making the vacancies in Wisconsin more attractive than those in Minnesota.

Another key sector that Zimmerman highlighted for fiscal redressing was the state’s educational programs, more specifically, those that relate to workforce needs. He said that the state needs to find ways to get people into programs that may currently be cost-prohibitive.

Zimmerman mentioned the Hudson School District’s Raider Works program, which teaches trade skills to youth, as an example of the type of educational instruction that could use a boost of funding. Ultimately, Zimmerman said he wants more money in the pockets of his constituents, so he is also hoping for a large tax return for Wisconsinites.

“This is your money, and I find that the best spender of your money is you,” said Zimmerman.

State Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Town of Washington) aligned with Zimmerman on the notion of using the surplus funds for tax reform. Petryk touted the decisions made by the Legislature in the last budget and the budgets over the last decade, and said he would like to see the income tax brackets reduced going forward.

“Since 2011, when I was elected, the tax burden in Wisconsin has decreased by $22 billion, and I look forward to returning more of that money to Wisconsinites in the future,” said Petryk.

State Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) echoed his Republican colleagues on tapping into the surplus to enact substantial tax relief, but he did not share their views on cutting down state income taxes.

He also exhibited frustration over the stance of the legislators who want to wait on making any decisions related to the surplus until construction of the next budget. Smith supports Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s plan to issue Wisconsin residents $150 surplus refunds and invest around $130 million in child and caregiver tax credits, and $750 million in improving schools and learning equity.

Next to no tangible progress has been made to this point, but Evers is asking legislators to consider his proposal, which he put forth in February during his State of the State address.

Evers signed an executive order calling state lawmakers to assemble for a special session to hash out how the $3.8 billion budget surplus should be managed. However, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Senate and the Assembly both quickly ended a March 8 special session, not even taking up the governor’s proposal.