The Republican response to Governor Dayton’s budget proposal approximated the outdoor temperatures this week.
Senate and House minority leaders Sen. David Hann and Rep. Kurt Daudt found nothing to like and everything to fault. They characterized Dayton’s proposal for a lowering and broadening of the sales tax as a middle-class tax increase and job killer.
“A more fitting title for the governor’s budget would be that this budget is for a better Wisconsin because that is where Minnesota jobs will go,” Daudt said.
Hann noted that a sales tax would be levied for the first time on clothing, hair cuts, oil changes and health club memberships. He then dismissed the Dayton administration contention that business would pay most of the $2 billion generated by the sales tax expansion.
“We are going to raise two billion dollars in sales taxes but nobody’s going to pay them?” he asked. “How does that work? So the businesses are going to be absorbing these taxes and what is going to happen? It’s not going to pass them to ordinary people and consumers? So, of course, people are going to pay.”
That’s what the Republicans don’t like on the revenue side of the governor’s budget. The spending they care for even less, noting the budget proposal calls for a 7.6 percent increase over the current budget.
Daudt picked one budget nit — reinstatement of the political contribution refund program. “We’re taxing Baby Tylenol to pay for welfare for politicians,” he said. “We think that’s wrong.”
Hann again countered the governor’s budget answers with more questions. “When we’re spending this kind of money, spending to this degree, what are we going to get for it?” he said. “What’s the big thing that we’re going to get for this? To buy down property taxes? Is that the big idea?”
The closest that the Republican leadership came to a proactive statement dealt with the so-called school shift, payments to schools that have been delayed to balance past budget deficits. The Dayton budget does not re-pay the shift that the DFL has cited as a high priority until the 2016 budget cycle.
“We need to pay back the shift in this current budget,” Daudt said. “We’re punting that down the road.”
Still, Daudt, said, House Republicans are ready to work. “My caucus is ready to roll up its sleeves.”
But Hann offered no similar words of encouragement but had a realistic take on the Republicans’ loss of power in budget negotiations: “We don’t have the votes.”
Furthermore, Hann and Daudt hinted that Republicans may even be content to let the DFL take the budget lead. “We’ll certainly invite the public to come to the Legislature and voice opinion on the increased taxes,” Hann said.
Daudt even speculated how the governor’s budget, if adopted, would affect the 2014 elections. “I think it would fare very well for Republicans,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to respond very well to paying a tax on a coat for their children.”
With their criticism and lack of critical mass, Republican legislators appear to be indicating that the budget debate will be a one-party discussion and that they’re betting the voting public won’t like what it hears.