MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday they want to tap the state's projected record-high $6.6 billion budget surplus to make "transformational" and once-a-generation tax law changes, including eliminating a tax paid by businesses and lowering income taxes for the most wealthy filers.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, speaking at a WisPolitics.com event, also said they hoped to work better with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in his second term. Evers, who rarely talked with GOP leaders in his first term, reached out to both lawmakers recently, Vos and LeMahieu said.
Vos said he spoke with Evers for five minutes.
"That was five minutes more than the past two years," Vos said.
LeMahieu and Vos said they hope that is a sign that Evers is willing to work with them, both on what to do with the projected surplus and on related issues, like education policy and cutting taxes.
"We can get some things done," LeMahieu said. "If we can get some big wins, we can also give on some issues, find some common ground."
Both Republicans said they aren't interested in a one-time tax cut, or rebate, like the one Evers proposed during his campaign that the GOP rejected.
"We can make transformational tax changes in Wisconsin," LeMahieu said. "It's exciting, it's very exciting."
LeMahieu said he wanted to move toward a flat income tax rate.
"We definitely need to drive down our top rates," he said.
Vos said he wanted to cut taxes "as much as we possibly can" and "it needs to be long term and permanent." That includes eliminating a property tax, a tax paid by businesses. Evers last session vetoed a bill to eliminate the tax.
Both Vos and LeMahieu said they want to transform the tax code to make Wisconsin more attractive for young people to locate and for older people to remain, instead of retiring to states with lower taxes. Vos said he also wanted to save some of the surplus, but didn't say how much.
Both Vos and LeMahieu said they were open to increasing funding for K-12 public schools, if it's paired with also expanding school choice programs. Evers, a former state education secretary and public school teacher and administrator, has opposed expanding the private school voucher program.
LeMahieu said such things as lowering the income eligibility level to qualify for the voucher program should be a part of the discussion.
Vos said he hoped that Evers would be willing to bend on issues that Democrats have historically opposed. Vos said he has shown a willingness to negotiate by voicing support for increasing public school funding. Evers has proposed increasing public K-12 funding by nearly $2 billion.
Republicans increased their majorities in both the Senate and Assembly, but fell just short of having a two-thirds majority needed to overturn Evers' vetoes. Evers issued more vetoes in his first term than any governor in Wisconsin history.