Republican leaders Vos and LeMahieu say they are talking to Gov. Evers 'more than we have in the last 2 years'

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, right.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, right.
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MADISON - Wisconsin's top Republican leaders said that for the first time in two years they're talking to Gov. Tony Evers and hope to end the ongoing stalemate between the Legislature and governor's office, an impasse that voters voiced frustration with in the mid-term elections.

"If we can get some big wins, we can give on some issues," Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said. "I think we can find some common ground to negotiate. I don't want to be sitting here in four years with $30 billion in surplus because we can't give on any issues."

But representatives from Evers' office say they have worked together more recently, including on a January 2021 COVID-19 bill — and the door has been open for more communication.

LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who were both recently reelected to lead their caucuses, spoke Tuesday during a lunch hosted by WisPolitics in Madison.

More:Assembly Speaker Robin Vos signals he will seek to modify state abortion ban, calls for GOP to move on from Donald Trump

Vos said he and LeMahieu spoke to Evers for five minutes recently "more than we have in the last two years," and Evers' staff has given the Republican leaders one date where the three can meet.

"I'm willing to have give and take — short of Governor Evers saying there are things he can never do," Vos said.

Evers' spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said the governor "looks forward to working with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle and remains hopeful that Republican leaders will put politics aside to do the right thing for our state by investing in our kids and public schools, restoring reproductive freedom, and cutting taxes by 10 percent for working families, among other critical priorities."

More:Wisconsin Republicans fell short of a legislative supermajority, but they now have enough senators to impeach state officials, speed up bills

Senate majority leader calls for flat tax

The event was held one day after the Department of Administration announced Wisconsin has a record-high budget surplus projected to hit $6.6 billion for 2022-23.

Over the next several months, Evers and the Republican-run state legislature will decide how to best spend the money during the budget process, which starts in February.

LeMahieu said he wants to cut taxes and also invest in K12 education, roads and local government.

"This gives us a great opportunity and responsibility," LeMahieu said. "We can make transformational tax changes in Wisconsin."

More:More of a ripple than a wave. How Wisconsin defied a GOP sweep.

LeMahieu said his first priority is to eliminate the personal property tax and then work toward a flat tax.

Wisconsin’s income tax rates start at 3.54% and rise to 7.65%. Republicans who control the state Legislature over the past decade have focused their income tax rates on the middle brackets but largely left in place the top rate, which is levied on individuals for income of $267,000 and up.

When Republican businessman Tim Michels floated the idea of a flat tax during his campaign for governor, dozens of economists said about 3% of Wisconsin residents would get an income tax cut, while people making $25,000 to $300,000 per year would get an increase.

LeMahieu said the flat tax would benefit everyone living in Wisconsin.

"A lot of those paying the top income tax are small-business owners, that benefits everybody," LeMahieu said. "That benefits everybody. Businesses that are expanding, that are employing people. But we're going to do income tax cuts across the board to make sure everybody receives tax cuts across Wisconsin."

Vos said Democrats should agree to fixing the tax code so younger people and other adults who have built up wealth will want to stay in Wisconsin. He said any changes need to be "long-term and permanent."

"My first priority is cutting taxes as much as we can, and keeping money in our savings account, rather than expanding the size of government," Vos said.

Cudaback said the governor has been advocating for tax relief for several months. In August, Evers announced a $600 million tax cut plan, including a 10% cut to income taxes. Republicans dismissed it as an election stunt.

Cudaback also pointed to portions of the K-12 budget that includes $90 million in spending across the state.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Republican leaders Vos and LeMahieu say they are talking to Tony Evers