Gov. Evers proposes allowing communities to raise sales tax

NOW: Gov. Evers proposes allowing communities to raise sales tax

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) — To offset some of the unexpected costs on local governments due to the pandemic, Governor Tony Evers is proposing an increase to the sales tax. 

His proposal would allow counties and cities, like Milwaukee, the ability to raise the sale tax by half a cent if voters approve through a referendum. Wisconsin currently has the lowest sales tax in the Midwest at 5%. 

Evers said it could result in more direct investments towards roads, public safety, and public health among other things.

"From the unexpected costs of the COVID-19 pandemic to the years of neglect and underfunding from the state, communities across Wisconsin have been under immense budgetary pressure, and they've been doing more with less for far too long," said Evers in a statement.

Counties and cities with populations over 30,000 would have the ability to raise their local sales tax up to 6.5%, under the proposal.

"Wisconsin is way behind the times on how it funds local governments," said Jerry Deschane, executive director of the League of Wisconsin  Municipalities. "To have this discussion is tremendous progress." 

Milwaukee officials have urged lawmakers since 2019 to raise their local sales tax, but Republicans opposed the idea. 

They celebrated the governor's announcement even though it will face an uphill battle among the GOP-led Legislature. 

“We are very appreciative of the governor’s efforts and his recognition that we need to hit the reset button in our fiscal relationship," said Mayor Tom Barrett. "An increased sales tax will reduce our reliance on property taxes which would position our revenue structure closer in alignment with similar size cities."

"Thanks to Governor Evers, Milwaukee County, the economic engine of the state is one step closer to having the tools necessary to invest in our communities, our residents and our businesses to ensure that this region, and our state, continues to grow," said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. 

The revenue from a sales tax increase could be used towards fixing roads and making other investments in communities, said Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley. 

"Currently municipalities have no way of getting that additional revenue," said said. "They should be allowed to increase their own sales taxes and they are being told no because suddenly Republicans don't believe in local control."

The local sales tax increase will be included in Evers' budget proposal, but Republicans can make changes and could ultimately remove this measure.

Republican leadership did not return requests seeking comment. 

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