MADISON -- Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a GOP income tax cut bill Wednesday in an early showdown with legislative Republicans who had moved to weaken the Democrat's powers just weeks before he took office.
Republicans rushed to pass the bill, the first they introduced this year, before Evers could introduce his own income tax plan next week. Democrats quickly labeled the move a stunt.
The GOP Legislature lacks the votes to override the veto.
The veto just six weeks after Evers took office could be a sign of more conflict to come with Republicans in the Legislature. Both sides have vowed to work together but have shown little willingness to compromise on major issues so far.
"I am troubled and disappointed that this major fiscal policy was introduced and passed without bipartisan support and cooperation," Evers said in his veto message. "The people of the State of Wisconsin expect and deserve for their leaders to work together, and I plan to do my part to ensure that happens."
Evers, the former state schools chief, stopped Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bid for a third term in a November election in which Democrats dominated statewide races. But Republicans struck back in an acrimonious lame-duck session, passing legislation signed by Walker that cut into the powers of both Evers and newly elected Attorney General Josh Kaul.
However, they did not curb Evers' veto power . He used it Wednesday, the first time he was given a bill to sign or reject.
Evers' veto shows that "the bipartisanship message he preached during his campaign was nothing more than a smoke screen," said Republican Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the veto was unfortunate and that Republicans would "redouble our efforts" to fight for an income tax cut that doesn't raise taxes on businesses.
Evers and Republicans both said they wanted to cut income taxes for the middle class but didn't agree on how to pay for it. Evers wanted to mostly eliminate a manufacturing tax credit program to pay for about half of his cut.
Republicans want to tap a budget surplus instead and rely on future revenue growth to pay for it in later years. They created the manufacturing tax credit and say cutting it amounts to a tax increase on job creators that would hurt Wisconsin's economy. Democrats cast the tax credit as a giveaway to millionaires and say there's no evidence that it's helped the economy as much as Republicans say.
Tax cuts and other major spending proposals are typically considered as part of the two-year state budget. Evers is to release his first budget on Feb. 28. That will give him and lawmakers another chance to reach a compromise on the income tax cut.
The bill Evers vetoed would eventually have cut income taxes by $340 million a year, or about $170 for the average individual. Evers' proposal would cut income taxes by about $415 million a year, or about $225 per tax filer.
The following statements were issued by state and party officials:
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau)
"Middle-class Wisconsinites deserve a tax break – it’s unfortunate that Governor Evers is telling them to wait their turn instead of lowering their taxes. With eight years of responsible budgeting and reforms, Wisconsin’s budget is running a surplus and we can afford this tax cut to help hard-working families get ahead. I am confident that Senate Republicans will redouble our efforts and fight to include a middle-class tax cut in the upcoming state budget.
"Let me be clear with the governor: I will not support raising taxes on our state’s job creators. With our economy expanding and the state running a surplus, we shouldn’t be introducing uncertainty into the industries fueling Wisconsin’s comeback."
Republican Party of Wisconsin Exec. Director Mark Morgan
"Governor Evers has shown once again that he cares more about partisan politics than the interests of Wisconsin’s hard-working families. This tax cut was a real opportunity to put money back into the hands of hard-working taxpayers. Instead, Governor Evers is telling Wisconsin families that he cares more about pandering to his partisan allies than delivering meaningful results."
State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls)
"Governor Evers made a middle class tax cut one of his main campaign promises. Today he broke that promise. The legislature put a middle class tax cut on his desk and he choose to not sign the bill. He said he would support a middle class tax cut, he didn’t say he was going to punish job creators by eliminating incentives for manufacturers or redistribute wealth through a ‘refundable tax credit.’ Governor Evers has already forgotten the middle class. We’re the people who go to work every day so we can continue to pursue the American dream. It didn’t take long for the Governor to show his true colors."