Wisconsin GOP leader wants income tax cut for all taxpayers

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The leader of the Wisconsin Senate said Tuesday that Republicans who control the Legislature remain in favor of cutting income taxes for all income earners, even if there is not enough support for his plan that would phase in a flat tax rate.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu told reporters that he had no “line in the sand” of what he would support, but wanted to pass something that would lower rates for everyone. LeMahieu said he thought there was enough support to pass the first two years of his plan, which cuts taxes for all brackets but does not fully implement a flat rate.

“Generally, both caucuses are supportive of reducing all taxes,” LeMahieu said of Senate and Assembly Republicans after testifying in support of his flat tax plan.

That proposal has run into bipartisan opposition, with Gov. Tony Evers and Democrats firmly against it and even other top Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, saying it’s likely not going to happen this year.

“We haven’t ruled it out either,” Vos told reporters Tuesday. “It’s certainly a long-term goal we can all agree with.”

Both sides are in agreement that some of the state’s record-high $7 billion projected budget surplus should be tapped to cut taxes. They have yet to coalesce around what that would look like.

Evers is pushing for tax cuts targeting low- and middle-income earners, while Republicans who control the Legislature are eyeing other alternatives. Democrats generally oppose the flat tax because it would result in much higher tax cuts for wealthy people.

Vos said last week that talks were ongoing. It’s expected to be a major piece of the two-year state budget that the Legislature will likely pass sometime in June and that takes effect in July.

LeMahieu on Tuesday called his flat tax measure a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to make generational tax reform given the state’s high surplus.

“This will make Wisconsin more competitive, more affordable and stronger,” LeMahieu testified before the Senate revenue committee.

Wisconsin’s total tax burden, which is total taxes measured as a share of personal income, fell to its lowest point in more than 50 years in 2022, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum. It also found that that in recent years, Wisconsin income tax rates have declined more for higher income earners than they have for those with lower incomes.

Overall, however, when compared to national averages, rates in Wisconsin are higher for higher incomes and lower for lower incomes.

LeMahieu set the marker for Republicans with the most conservative tax cut proposal. It would do away with Wisconsin’s progressive income tax and replace it with a flat 3.25% rate by 2026. That would cost the state nearly $5 billion in lost tax revenue over the next two years.

For taxpayers, the average tax decrease would be $4,415 over the four-year phase-in period and about $1,800 a year after that, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

That bill, along with one doing away with a tax that businesses pay on furnishings and equipment, were both heard by the Senate revenue committee on Tuesday. Evers and Republicans have both supported doing away with that personal property tax, but haven’t agreed on exactly how to do it.

Evers’ budget proposal included a 10% income tax cut for individuals making $100,000 or less a year and married filers making $150,000 or less. His plan also calls for increasing capital gains taxes and limiting how much companies can claim in manufacturing and agriculture tax credits.

His plan would also cap copays for insulin at $35, repeal the state’s minimum markup law in an attempt to lower gas prices, cut taxes for seniors on fixed incomes, expand property tax relief for veterans with disabilities, and attempt to lower the cost of caregiving and child care.

Republicans are expected to scrap all of those proposals.

Last week, a pair of Assembly Republicans introduced another tax cut proposal that attempts to strike a middle ground between the Evers and LeMahieu plans. That bill would cut rates for the state’s four income tax brackets over several years, ultimately resulting in no taxes for the lowest earners and 4.5% for everyone else.

That plan is expected to reduce state tax collections by about $3.5 billion a year once fully implemented.

The last state budget, passed by the Republican Legislature and signed by Evers, cut income taxes by more than $1 billion.