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Evers at Alliant Energy Center (copy)

Wis. Gov. Tony Evers, surrounded by Madison-area leaders, proposes the state spend $30 million on a planned expansion to the Alliant Energy Center.

Despite proposing to increase taxes and fees by $1.2 billion in his biennial budget request, Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday that he is “pretty close” to his campaign claim that he planned to raise no taxes.

Evers also downplayed his proposed tax hikes as “small tax increases” in an interview on WTMJ radio.

The comments come as Evers tries to sell his budget plan, introduced last month, to a deeply skeptical GOP Legislature and the public.

Republican lawmakers hammered Evers for the remarks.

“Is this a joke?” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, wrote in a Twitter post shortly after the interview aired. “The governor’s budget contains over $1 billion in tax hikes after he told Wisconsin voters he planned to not raise taxes at all.”

“Taxpayers of Wisconsin should be fearful when our governor starts admitting publicly that he believes more than a $1 billion in tax increases is a small amount,” said the co-chairpersons of the Legislature’s budget committee, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, in a joint statement.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff, meanwhile, said in a statement that “the governor’s point is that the impact for most Wisconsinites will be small.”

For much of the 2018 campaign, Evers outspokenly advocated capping the manufacturing tax credit and acknowledged his openness to raising taxes on fuel and the wealthy.

But in the campaign’s final days, Evers told The Washington Post he was “planning on raising no taxes.” He repeated the claim on WISN-TV shortly after. The statement came as his opponent, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, labeled him as “Tony the Taxer.”

Evers’ 2019-21 budget proposal would increase the gas tax by 8 cents a gallon, limit for high-earning filers a tax benefit for capital gains and cap the manufacturer tax credit at $300,000 of annual income.

At the same time, Evers’ plan proposes tax cuts for individuals making $100,000 or less a year and married couples making $150,000 or less. It also calls for increasing a tax credit for low-income working families and creating a new tax credit for child care costs.

Up $1.16 billion

A Wisconsin State Journal analysis found Evers’ plan would result in a net tax and fee increase of $1.16 billion.

The impact of those changes would vary widely among taxpayers, with some paying more and others less. Baldauff said the median family of four in Wisconsin would save more than $1,000 on their income taxes in the upcoming biennium, which begins July 1.

She said the taxes Evers wants to increase largely are levied on big businesses and wealthy individuals, such as the manufacturing credit and capital gains benefit.

“Those who claim these preferences in large amounts essentially enjoy an alternative income tax system where they pay much lower effective rates than people with ordinary wage and salary income,” Baldauff said. “That isn’t fair.”

Asked in the interview if capping the manufacturer credit would harm the state’s economy, Evers said he doesn’t think so because he said it hasn’t jump-started the state’s manufacturing economy as its proponents predicted.

Hopes for convention

Evers also predicted in the interview that he and Republican legislative leaders would agree on a budget compromise before the start of the 2019-20 school year. The deadline to do so comes earlier: June 30, when the current two-year budget expires.

Also in the interview, Evers said Milwaukee hosting the 2020 Democratic National Convention can be “an opportunity to message the good things that are going on here in the state.”

“We value diversity and inclusiveness and making sure that young people are welcome here,” Evers said.

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