Evers calls proposed $1.3 billion tax increase 'small'


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FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2019 file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during an interview during the National Governors Association 2019 winter meeting in Washington. Evers said Thursday, March 14, that the state budget he proposed is "pretty close" to not raising taxes, even though it would increase them by $1.3 billion over two years. Evers, in an interview on WTMJ radio, said that there "may be some small tax increases." The comments drew an incredulous reaction from Republican legislative leaders.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday that the state budget he proposed is "pretty close" to not raising taxes, even though it would increase them by $1.3 billion over two years.

Evers, in an interview on WTMJ radio, said that there "may be some small tax increases." The comments drew an incredulous reaction from Republican legislative leaders.

"Is this a joke?" Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald tweeted . "The governor's budget contains over $1 billion in tax hikes after he told Wisconsin voters he planned to not raise taxes at all."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tweeted that it was indisputable Evers wants to raise taxes and, "It's unfortunate that (Evers) can't even admit it."

Evers promised during the campaign not to raise taxes, only to then put forward a budget that would raise the gas tax and some vehicle registration fees and reduce tax credits available to manufacturers and wealthier tax filers with capital gains.

In total, taxes and fees would increase by about $1.3 billion under his plan, based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Evers was asked during Thursday's interview about his campaign pledge not to raise taxes.

"We're pretty close, to be honest with you," he said, before adding that there may be "some small tax increases."

His spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said Evers' point was that the impact of any tax increase on most people would be small. An independent analysis of Evers' budget and the impact on taxpayers is pending from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Baldauff defended his proposals, saying Evers wants the money to invest in the state's priorities such as roads, schools and health care while also cutting income taxes for the middle class.

"The governor's budget produces a fairer and more progressive tax system where tax relief is broadly shared instead of narrowly concentrated for certain filers," Baldauff said.

In the radio interview, Evers described himself as a pragmatist and said he believes he can reach a deal with Republicans to pass and sign a budget close to the June 30 deadline.

"I have no animosity, but I also understand the need to huff and puff and that happens on both sides," he said. "That's unfortunately the way it works."

Republicans have said they expect to reject much of what Evers is proposing as they work on a budget they can support. In addition to opposing the tax increases, Republicans have spoken against increasing funding for special education by $600 million as Evers wants, legalizing medical marijuana, freezing enrollment in private voucher schools and expanding Medicaid.

Evers defended the budget as realistic, citing support he heard during listening sessions held across the state and responses from Marquette University Law School polls showing support for many of the proposals.

On Foxconn, Evers said the state Department of Natural Resources had completed its review of air quality permits issued to the Taiwanese company for its planned development in southeast Wisconsin and determined that no changes were necessary.

Those permits were issued under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration and Evers campaigned on promising to review them amid concerns about the environmental impact of the project, which includes a display screen manufacturing facility.

Evers reiterated Thursday that his primary concern with Foxconn is that the company's intentions be transparent to taxpayers, who could be on the hook for about $4 billion in tax credits if the company invests $10 billion and hires 13,000 people.

Foxconn executives insist they remain on target to do that, though critics say the company's shifting plans for what it will manufacture at the Wisconsin plant point to a much smaller investment in money and employees.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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