MADISON, Wis. — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday called for the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature to spend $250 million of a state budget surplus on public schools, including $130 million that would go toward lowering property taxes.
The proposal met with immediate opposition from Republican leaders, who want to cut taxes, not spend more on schools.
Last month, new budget projections estimated that the state will collect about $450 million more that previously expected for its general fund by the middle of 2021, sparking a feeding frenzy in the Legislature and among various interest groups that hope to claim some of that surplus.
Various other initiatives that will cost money, including bills meant to help dairy farmers and rural Wisconsin, improve water quality and address homelessness, are among those competing for some of that money. Republicans have also talked about wanting to use some of the money to reduce debt.
Evers, the former state superintendent for education, tried Thursday to make the conversation about schools.
Evers surrounded himself with teachers, school board members, superintendents, Democratic lawmakers and others to unveil the plan. He called a special session for the Legislature to take up his proposal next week before they adjourn the session next month. Republicans plan to meet to vote on bills for just a handful of days before adjourning for the year, leaving precious little time to reach deals that can pass and be signed into law.
“I look forward to working across the aisle to get this done,” Evers said. ”This is a win-win for all of us in the state of Wisconsin.”
Evers’ plan is unlikely to become law given Republican opposition.
“Every time the state has surplus revenue, Republicans look for ways to return that money to taxpayers. Democrats keep looking for ways to spend your money,” tweeted Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. “Senate Republicans have been focused since late last year on using our surplus for a tax cut for hard-working families, and the governor knows that. I don’t see us budging off that position.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Evers knows Republicans won’t go for the plan.
“I just met with Governor Evers yesterday and there was no mention of this special session,” Vos tweeted. “The governor may say he wants to work together but it appears he’s only interested in scoring political points.”
Evers touted his plan as both cutting taxes, by spending $130 million in property tax relief through the school aid formula, and increasing funding for schools. Evers wants to spend about $85 million on special education, nearly $23 million on mental health services, $10 million for the most rural schools and $3.6 million on summer reading programs.
“We don’t have to choose between investing in our kids and reducing property taxes — we can do both,” Evers said.
The budget Evers signed last year, that the Republican Legislature passed, increased K-12 school funding by about $565 million over two years. He had proposed a $1.4 billion increase.