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Wisconsin Republican leaders eyeing property, income tax cut

MADISON — Republican leaders of the Wisconsin Legislature said Wednesday that they are looking at using some of a state surplus to cut income and property taxes while also paying down debt, although details of what may be put forward remain in flux.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he agreed with Senate Republicans “in general” about what taxes to cut. Anything the Republican-controlled Legislature passes would have to be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law.

Evers and Democrats haven’t ruled out cutting taxes but have talked about funding other priorities such as the University of Wisconsin, mental health care for students and expanding access to health care.

“Hopefully we can put together something that makes sense here,” Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters following an appearance at the Wisconsin Counties Association annual meeting.

The Legislature is nearing the end of its two-year session, with both the Senate and Assembly expected to meet less than five days before the end of March. That is putting pressure on lawmakers to act on numerous issues, including what to do with a projected general fund budget surplus of $450 million.

Republicans have talked about using the money to cut taxes but haven’t released a plan.

Vos said Republicans wouldn’t spend “a huge amount of the surplus,” but they were looking at a variety of tax cuts. Vos told reporters after the panel that he was concerned that Evers could “screw around with” a tax cut by changing it through his broad partial veto power and changing the intent of the Legislature.

“We have to be very careful in how we craft it,” he said.

The priority is funding a tax cut that would have the biggest impact on the state’s economy, he said.

A lot of possible tax cuts are being discussed. Assembly Republicans are looking at proposals to lower the taxes of farmers but have yet to unveil their plan. Fitzgerald said there is a push from Republican Sen. Dale Kooyenga to cut income taxes, but there’s also support among some Senate Republicans to cut the personal property tax.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said whether Democrats would get behind a tax cut depends on how it’s structured, who it affects and how much it costs.

On other issues:

— Vos and Fitzgerald said they were hopeful a bill could pass extending the hours bars could be open until 4 a.m. during the Democratic National Convention in July.

— Fitzgerald said he expects the Senate to pass a package of anti-crime bills that Democrats have criticized for increasing the state’s already overcrowded prison population. Vos said the bills will not include funding to build a new prison, something he supports.

— Vos and Fitzgerald voiced support for moving Wisconsin’s presidential primary to earlier in the year than April 7, something Republicans floated last year but did not debate. Hintz and Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling criticized the Iowa caucus amid the delay in reporting results. Evers on Tuesday called the Iowa caucus antiquated and results in suppressing the vote of people who can’t spend hours at a caucus meeting. But Vos said campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire as its merits.

“It might not be a perfect system, but the opportunity to have the presidency at the granular level, where you to actually talk to people, go to pancake breakfasts, do all the things we have to do, as opposed to raising a bunch of money and spending it on TV, I think that’s a positive for democracy,” Vos said.

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