Wisconsin governor calls for tax cut as rival tours Kenosha

FILE - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers addresses a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers during the governor's State of the State speech at the state Capitol on Feb. 15, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Evers proposed a $600 million annual tax cut on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, an election year proposal that's all-but certain to be summarily rejected by the Republican-controlled Legislature. (AP Photo/Andy Manis, File) (Andy Manis, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers proposed a $600 million annual tax cut on Tuesday — an election year proposal that Republican legislative leaders rejected as a "vote-buying ploy.

Evers announced the proposed cut at the same time as his Republican rival, Tim Michels, was touring Kenosha on the second anniversary of sometimes violent protests over a police shooting. Michels has made Evers' reaction to the unrest in Kenosha a key plank of his campaign against the Democratic incumbent.

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Michels and legislative leaders accused Evers of trying to divert attention from the anniversary of the Kenosha unrest. Evers said he was trying to help families struggling with high inflation.

The proposal from Evers, released less than three months before the November election, comes just five months after the Legislature rejected another tax cut he proposed that was nearly three times as large and included a $150 rebate to taxpayers. Evers cited the state's projected $5 billion budget surplus as reason to enact his latest plan. Evers proposed similar tax cuts in each of the past three years that the Legislature rejected.

“Wisconsin families have been through a lot over the past few years, and we know that while our state and economy continue to recover, folks are still worried about rising costs and making ends meet,” Evers said in a statement.

Evers' proposal would cap co-pays for insulin at $35, repeal the state's minimum markup law in an attempt to lower gas prices, and cut income taxes by 10% for individuals earning less than $100,000 and families earning less than $150,000. Other proposed tax cuts would benefit seniors on fixed incomes, expand property tax relief for veterans with disabilities and attempt to lower the cost of caregiving and child care.

“Our state is in a strong fiscal position, and there is no reason these dollars should sit in state coffers when families need help now,” Evers said.

The state's projected budget surplus by mid-2023 has steadily grown as tax collections have continued to exceed estimates. The latest projected surplus was $3.8 billion, but Evers said Tuesday that it is expected to grow to as much as $5 billion.

“We’re not going to jeopardize future budgets in the midst of a recession to fund a tax gimmick,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement rejecting the proposal. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu joined Vos in rejecting the plan.

“If the projected surplus materializes, we will cut taxes for everyone," Vos said. "We will not pick winners and losers like Tony Evers does with this vote-buying ploy.”

Republicans who control the Legislature are hoping to defeat Evers in November, which would give them the chance to enact tax cuts under a Republican governor. Last year, Evers signed into law a $2 billion middle class tax cut that the Legislature passed. Evers has been campaigning on that, which angers Republicans who say they should get the credit, especially since they rejected more than $1 billion in tax increases primarily on manufacturers and the wealthy that Evers had proposed.

In Kenosha, Michels was joined by Republican attorney general candidate Eric Toney and Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil on a tour of property that was damaged during the protests two years ago. They then held a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officers.

Michels and other Republicans have faulted Evers’ reaction to the protests, which came after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, during a domestic disturbance. Blake survived but was left paralyzed from the waist down.

On the third night of the protests, Aug. 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse shot three men on the streets, killing two of them. A jury acquitted him of multiple charges in November after he argued that he had fired in self-defense.

Michels released a video ahead of his Kenosha tour that included footage of Evers from 2020 saying he had “no regrets” about his response to the Kenosha violence and wouldn't change anything he had done.

“Is it any wonder why Governor Evers desperately wants to change the subject and talk about anything other than Kenosha today?” Michels tweeted in reaction to Evers releasing his tax cut. “Does he still have no regrets?”

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