Area legislators weigh in on state surplus

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Gazette staff
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A state budget surplus expected to total $977 million is prompting ideas from lawmakers about how the money should be used.

Democratic leaders said they want to eliminate a projected deficit and spend more on education and job training programs.

Gov. Scott Walker has said he wants to provide income and property tax relief.

Here is what area legislators had to say about how they think the surplus should be used:

Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva

The state's budget surplus needs to go back to the taxpayers in the form of property tax relief and possibly income tax relief, August said.

“I think it is the people's money, and we should sent it back to them,” August said.

The money needs to get out of Madison as soon as possible, August said, because the “culture up here is if we find some quarters in the couch, everyone wants to spend them right away.”

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville

Cullen noted that the surplus is only a projection for what might be 17 months from now, so he urges caution.

Half of the approximately $1 billion should be put in the state's rainy-day fund for unforeseen changes in tax collections and expenses, Cullen suggested.

A quarter of the amount should be used for property tax relief, and the remaining quarter should help restore cuts in equalization aid to public school districts, Cullen said.

Cullen rejected a proposal to target technical college property taxes for relief. He noted unelected boards oversee the tech colleges, and “the more you bury their costs in a large state budget, you have even less accountability.”

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton

Jorgenson said he'd like to see the surplus funneled into areas he says would most aid the middle class.

In addition to potential property tax relief for middle class homeowners, Jorgensen said he'd like to see money directed to education, particularly in the form of worker training education at technical colleges.   

“The Republicans have cut, cut, cut on technical schools. We need to refocus on that. We've heard from major employers we need to prioritize worker training,” Jorgensen said.

Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn

Paying off some of the state's debt or putting money towards the transportation fund are ways to use the surplus, Kedzie said.

“I think there is some room in here to pay some bills,” he said about Medicaid payments, bonds and other debt. He also mentioned using some of the money for infrastructure investments by improving roads and bridges.

A surplus is a good problem to have, and if used in the right way, can positively affect a large part of the population, he said.

Rep. Deb Kolste, D-Janesville

Kolste said the state should not be sitting on a budget surplus and should instead find ways to return money to the middle class.

Two possibilities, she said, are restoring funding for the state's Earned Income Tax Credit and for the Homestead Tax Credit, both of which lost millions of dollars in the last budget.

Both programs target Wisconsin's lowest-income working families.

She said more money could be targeted to job training grants or paying down the state's debt that increased in Walker's last budget.

“We need to find ways to get the money back in the hands of the people who really need it, the working-class people,” she said.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton

Loudenbeck said she'd like to see the state split the budget surplus between the state's rainy-day fund and the taxpayers.

The higher than estimated projected revenue indicates the state's economic recovery is “well underway,” she said, but Wisconsinites are still struggling with high property taxes and fixed or flat incomes.

“After making a sizeable deposit in the rainy day fund, I would support returning a substantial amount of the surplus funds to the taxpayers,” she said in an email.   

Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville

Lawmakers need to make sure the surplus goes back to the middle class and lower-income residents, Ringhand said.

“By state statute, we are suppose to put half of it into a rainy day fund, which makes sense,” she said.

Education would be a good option for some of the surplus, she said, since so much state funding has been cut from all levels of education.

People also need to be cognizant of where the money is coming from, so it's not counted on as an ongoing tax cut or revenue source, she said.

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