Wisconsin tax collections up $818 million above projections

MADISON — Wisconsin tax collections are expected to come in more than $818 million above projections made last summer, an increase reported Thursday that will fuel the push to make an election-year tax cut.

Republicans who control the Legislature are discussing a tax cut, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has been more cautious and voiced concerns about meeting other priorities and warding against a future economic downturn. Senate Republicans, whose leader Scott Fitzgerald is running for Congress, are pushing to lower property taxes. Assembly Republicans also support cutting taxes, but aren't fully behind lowering property taxes.

Fitzgerald said he will continue to work on a property tax cut that can be passed before the Senate adjourns for the year in March.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Republicans would not “grow the size of government” but instead would look at paying down debt or cutting taxes. He didn't specify which taxes or debt might be targeted.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said any surplus should be used to address areas of urgent need, including bolstering school-based mental health and funding for the University of Wisconsin System.

Evers did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Any tax cut that the Legislature approves would have to be signed by Evers before becoming law. The state budget Republicans passed and Evers signed into law last year cut personal income taxes on middle-income earners by 10%.

The forecast is an estimate of how much money the state will collect through the current two-year budget cycle, which runs through the end of June 2021. The net increase to the state's bottom line is $452 million above what was projected when the budget passed in July, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported in a memo to lawmakers. That leaves the state with a projected net balance of $620 million by the middle of 2021,.

That surplus could grow even higher. The state budget passed last year assumed that Foxconn Technology Group would qualify for $212 million in state tax credits for job creation and capital expenditures at the plant it's building in southeast Wisconsin. However, progress has been slower than anticipated and the Fiscal Bureau estimates Foxconn will only qualify for between $50 million and $75 million in credits for 2019.

The state's rainy day fund, akin to a savings account, is also slated to grow to its highest levels ever, topping $1 billion by July 2021.

Republicans gave themselves credit for the improved forecast.

“We didn't get here by accident,” said the Legislature's budget committee co-chairs, Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, in a joint statement. “Thanks to careful budgeting, reforms, and more than $8 billion in tax cuts, our economy continues to grow and prosper.”