Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Evers Takes a Page from Republicans

His push to give tax rebate to taxpayers was first used by Lee Dreyfus to win office.

By - Jan 31st, 2022 05:40 pm
Gov. Tony Evers. Photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Gov. Tony Evers. Photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Gov. Tony Evers announcement last week that he wants to use the state surplus to give a $150 rebate to every taxpayer in Wisconsin had a familiar ring to it. Back in 1978 upstart candidate Lee Sherman Dreyfus promised to give every taxpayer a $200 rebate from a state surplus if they elected him. And they did and he did.

Dreyfus had more than that going in his campaign. He was a silver-tonged orator who wore a red vest and barnstormed the state with his “Red Vest Whistle-Stop Special” bus, portraying himself as an outsider who would transform state government. But the tax rebate gave him an easy-to-understand issue that helped him pull off two upsets, first defeating Bob Kasten, nominated for governor by the state Republican party, in the GOP primary. Dreyfus went on to defeat Democrat and acting Gov. Marty Schreiber.

Dreyfus lived up to his promise and drained the state’s surplus to do it, and by his final year of office, in 1982, the state had a budget deficit of nearly $1 billion. But the rebate idea helped get him elected and made that campaign famous.

In 2018, then-Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans came up with a tax rebate of sorts, passing a child care tax credit plan that sent $100 to families for every child, months before the election. Evers, who was running against Walker at the time, criticized the plan and then-Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz called it an election year bribe,” as Scott Bauer reported.

Now the parties have reversed position, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos quoting Hintz to suggest Evers is now the one trying to bribe taxpayers. Senate Republicans will not gamble with a projected state surplus to fund Tony Eversre-election gimmicks,” offered Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. Yet Vos and LeMaheiu supported Walker’s child care tax credit.

As for Evers seeming flip-flop, he cited the pandemic to argue that things are different than back in 2018, and offered this salvo: “that surplus wont do us any good just sitting here in Madison until the summer of 2023. We have the resources to make sure that every family and every community is doing just as well as our states economy.”

The other thing that’s different from 2018 is the size of the state surplus, which the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated could hit $3.8 billion by the end of the current state budget. Evers is proposing to use only $1.7 billion of the projected surplus.

Of course, this being a Democratic proposal, it couldn’t simply be a tax rebate that every voter could immediately understand. Evers $1.7 billion proposal includes $815.7 million to send checks of $150 to every resident, a $611 million increase in funding for K-12 public schools, $111 million to the university system and $28 million to technical colleges. And for good measure some $132 million in tax credits for child care and caregivers for elderly and disabled people.

Former Lt. Governor and Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch said she was “disappointed” in the proposal and tweeted this: “Any proposal that does not include substantial tax reform, putting more officers on the streets, and a real plan to fix our education system should be a non-starter for Republicans.” Kevin Nicholson, who recently announced his entry into the Republican primary, has said nothing about Evers proposal, and as of publication had not responded to requests for comment

As for Kleefisch, she is left in the position of offering some vague sounding tax reform far down the road, while newspapers and broadcast news across the state are offering the headline that Evers wants to give every taxpayer $150. Or as Evers put it: ”This is the people’s money, and sitting on the people’s money for another year-and-a-half makes no sense.”

The people’s money? Those are Republican fighting words, used by countless GOP candidates over the years to push for lower taxes. Whether Evers can make that phrase work as well for him remains to be seen. Maybe he should start wearing a red vest.

3 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Evers Takes a Page from Republicans”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Let me guess antitax rethugs, will now be against this because a democrat wants to do it.

  2. MilwMike1 says:

    Reminiscent of the Heritage Foundation’s health insurance plan. Once it was called ObamaCare it suddenly got cooties and was to be avoided.

  3. dmkrueger2 says:

    No lose situation for Evers.
    He gets to tout a republican slogan and watch the republicans squirm (they wish they thought of it 1st).

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