Tax refunds, local services, skateboard parks – lots of ideas for a budget surplus

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Governor Evers offers checks and education, Republicans want to wait until 2023, but a research group suggests local governments stand to benefit.

It may seem like ancient history now, but in the weeks leading up to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Wisconsin in the spring of 2020, state lawmakers and Governor Tony Evers were arguing over how to spend a budget surplus. At the time, with Republicans calling for tax cuts and Democrats calling for increased spending on education, many city, county, and town leaders across the state felt neglected, even at the view of all.

The most egregious example of their status could be seen in an UpNorthNews headline from February 2020, when local officials gathered in Madison for a Wisconsin Counties Association meeting:

‘Lawmakers debate options for surplus – right ahead of cash-strapped county leaders’

Now, as the economy recovers and states use federal pandemic aid, a new report suggests more attention should be paid to these local government challenges, even as Evers and legislative Republicans return to the pre-pandemic talking points.

The independent Wisconsin Policy Forum think tank has released a report on how a projected surplus of $3.8 billion in June 2023, nearly $3 billion more than previous expectations, could help local governments whose budgets have been shredded by a decade of Republican cuts and levy limits. headed the legislature.

“After more than a decade of struggling with a combination of strict levy limits and stagnant state aid, it is certainly doubtful that many local governments will be able to avoid service cuts without some relief from the state’s share once federal relief funds run out and should nothing else change,” the report said. “The future is even more alarming given the statewide labor shortage and rising inflation.”

Wisconsin had pioneered the income tax system – a more progressive system than taxing property – and shared that money to help local governments fund vital services. But the pool dedicated to these “shared revenues” has fallen nearly 50% from 1996 to 2020, according to the progressive research group Wisconsin Budget Project.

“If the amount of state support for local communities grew at the same rate as the rest of the state budget,” the group said in 2019, “the state would invest $2.1 billion in counties and municipalities in 2020 in the form of shared revenues”. , instead of the $830 million it actually spends.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum report says the legislature has several options for targeting excess dollars to local governments. In addition to simply increasing shared revenue or changing levy limits, lawmakers could consider “narrower approaches to bolstering specific services, such as increasing reimbursement for EMS ambulance rides or non-payment-related responses.” transport”.

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) took a more populist approach to the issue with a recent Twitter Post Poll. “Your input is needed,” he said. “Instead of hoarding the $2.9 billion surplus through 2023, Wisconsin should…”

Responses covered the full range of local government, family, small business and infrastructure needs:

  • Fully fund our public schools. Specifically fund special education in our public schools.
  • Build 100 skate parks.
  • Fix shared revenue and stop starving cities.
  • Help parents keep their children so that more people can find jobs.
  • Pay premiums/repay student loans to medical professionals, law enforcement, fire/EMS, educators, hospitality workers, and small business owners, etc.

But local government leaders, parents and skateboard park advocates may have to wait to see if legislative Republicans change their minds and embrace Evers’ proposal of tax refund checks and increase in education spending, or if nothing happens at all until the start of the next budget cycle. 2023.

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