Fitzgerald: Republicans Need To Put Aside Intraparty Differences In Session Ahead

Senate Majority Leader @SenFitzgerald said he does have concerns about many of the left-leaning activists the governor-elect has appointed to his various advisory boards. #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet Senate Majority Leader @SenFitzgerald said he is willing to work with @GovElectEvers in fulfilling a campaign pledge to cut income taxes, says good economy means no need for tax hikes. #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet

MacIver News Service | Dec. 20, 2018

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON – Republicans are ready to work with incoming Gov. Tony Evers, but they’re not about to trade in their conservative principles for bipartisanship, says Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. 

The Juneau Republican said he met with the Democratic governor-elect for about 20 minutes Thursday morning. While the conversation was cordial, it’s clear divided government will have its lines in the sand in the session ahead. 

“It’s just going to be a different type of budget that’s going to be introduced, hopefully in mid-February, late February at the latest,” Fitzgerald said during a press conference in his office. “It’s going to take Wisconsin in a different direction and that’s what Republican legislators are concerned about.” 

There may be opportunities for some common ground. 

Evers has proposed a 10 percent tax cut for low- and middle-income earners. Fitzgerald said he’s open to more tax relief. Republicans have delivered north of $8 billion in tax cuts during outgoing Gov. Scott Walker’s eight years in office. 

But Evers seems to be walking back some of his earlier promises. 

“Our hope is to keep taxes at a reasonable level and hopefully not raise them at all, but there’s lots of needs out there,” the Democrat recently said when asked by MacIver News Service where he stands on tax cuts. 

Fitzgerald said he can’t imagine a situation where tax hikes would be necessary in a robust economy and an era of hefty budget surpluses. 

The state ended the fiscal year with a $588.5 million surplus, the eighth consecutive surplus, according to the 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report issued Thursday by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. 

Walker took a victory lap. 

“Thanks to eight years of our strong financial management and growing economy, Wisconsin has ended every fiscal year we have been in office with a surplus,” the Republican governor said in a press release. “We are leaving a $588.5 million surplus, allowing the state to enter fiscal year 2018-19 with the second-largest opening balance since 2000.”

The fiscal situation is much improved from what Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature inherited in early 2011, after Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle’s two terms.  Wisconsin’s economy, recovering from the Great Recession, had been bleeding jobs. The legislative session began that year with a $3.6 billion budget shortfall. 

Asked whether the Legislature would work with Evers’ proposed biennial budget or draw up their own spending blueprint, Fitzgerald said he and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) plan to work off of their own base budget, not beginning with new spending initiatives. The Republican-controlled budget-writing committee would build from the base. 

Asked whether he sees any circumstance in which the Senate would be open to expanding Medicaid, the majority leader shook his head. 

“I don’t see it right now but there’s a lot of moving parts,” Fitzgerald said. 

Evers insists that a Medicaid expansion will be in his budget. He wants to take the “free” money that’s supposed to come with expanding health care coverage to tens of thousands of Wisconsinites who live above the poverty line. Walker and Republican lawmakers have rejected the Obamacare carrot because it comes with some big sticks — a 10 percent contribution from the state, more costly regulations and paperwork, and no guarantee that, like so many other federal government mandates, Wisconsin won’t one day be left on the hook for the brunt of the expanded Medicaid costs. 

Fitzgerald said he likes Evers’ pick for administration secretary, Joel Brennan. The CEO of Milwaukee’s Discovery World, a non-profit science and technology educational and exploration center, serves on the Wisconsin Center District Board with Fitzgerald. 

The majority leader said he’ll reserve judgment on Evers’ other cabinet nominees. He said he does have concerns about many of the left-leaning activists the governor-elect has appointed to his various advisory boards. 

“I’ve said publicly that you can tell a lot about how things are going to move along depending on who you do surround yourself with,” Fitzgerald said. 

The list of Evers’ advisors includes big labor bosses, extreme environmentalists, social justice warriors, and espousers of socialism.

Will Evers Lead From The Far Left? His Choice Of Advisers Suggests So

Fitzgerald said the left turn in Wisconsin’s executive branch will require the two Republican-controlled houses of the Legislature to put aside the differences they’ve had in the past. 

“Because you don’t have that third element in governor Walker sitting there kind of driving policy and setting the table for the policy discussions, we’re going to absolutely have to work closer together instead of kind of butting heads, which we have seen in some past budgets and some other pieces of legislation,” Fitzgerald said.