Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says budget is product of the realities of divided government
MacIver News Service | June 20, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers won’t say whether he’ll veto the entire Republican budget bill.
The Democrat on Thursday told reporters he won’t decide until he knows what’s in the $81.7 billion biennial spending plan, until the Republican-controlled Legislature passes it next week. (The odds on that declined significantly Thursday when a second conservative senator announced he would not vote for his party’s budget.)
But if you listen very carefully, you can hear the overheated political rhetoric from Evers, his administration and liberal lawmakers shifting ever so slightly.
Toward the end of the legislative budget-writing process, Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee started talking a bit more favorably about the Republican budget. Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) told her Republican colleagues that she likes a lot of thing things funded in the GOP’s $1.9 billion capital budget approved earlier this month.
WATCH: Dem rhetoric over the 2019-21 state budget subtly shifted from outrage to tepid praise, with several Evers allies crediting the governor's big-spending plan for pushing the GOP to open the checkbook.#wiright #wipolitics #wibudget pic.twitter.com/WSZWpzgAdL
— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) June 21, 2019
Taylor hastily added that Republicans, after eight years in the fiscal restraint darkness, were finally starting to see the light — thanks, of course, to Evers’ leadership.
At a “People’s Budget” pep rally Thursday, the governor and his top administrators doubled down on the talking point.
“There is no doubt that the governor’s commitment to addressing Wisconsin’s deteriorating infrastructure was the catalyst for the Republican’s budget proposal as it stands,” said Craig Thompson, secretary-designee of the state Department of Transportation.
Evers thanked “the people” who in recent months showed up at listening sessions, called legislators, sent emails, and knocked on doors in support of what the governor likes to call the “People’s Budget.” He left out the fact that a lot of those so-called average citizens were actually left-wing activists, some of them paid to show up and publicly lobby for Evers’ big government policies.
“Look how far this Legislature has moved closer to my proposal because of the work they did,” Evers told assembled media at his East Wing presser, where he was surrounded by cabinet members and top Democrats.
It’s a back-handed compliment, to be sure, but the faint praise about Republicans spending more to keep up with Evers’ big-spending budget have more than a few fiscal hawks hearing alarm bells.
“The budget fails to do what it most needs to do, truly prioritize state spending in a way that’s most responsible for Wisconsin families and to put us on solid ground for the future,” Sen. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) told MacIver News Service Thursday after announcing he would not support the Finance Committee budget plan.
Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), in confirming he would not support his party’s budget, said the bill “is not a conservative budget by any reasonable analysis.”
The recalcitrant Republicans say there’s much not to love about the bill, but its price tag — at nearly 8 percent higher (all funds) than the current two-year fiscal blueprint — is too much to stomach.
Several fiscal conservatives have expressed their displeasure with how much the Republican budget plan spends — from a half billion dollars more in K-12 education to nearly $600 million more in Medical Assistance to a fee-laden, controversial transportation proposal. The GOP plan still comes in at more than $2 billion less than Evers’ record-spending $84.2 billion budget.
Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) in defending the Finance Committee’s work said the Republican budget responsibly funds the Badger State’s priorities while embracing the realities of divided government.
“If it were a Republican governor with a Republican Legislature the budget would not look like this,” Vos said. “It would probably have a different form of tax relief and probably a lower level of spending.”
“But I didn’t choose Tony Evers, but the voters of Wisconsin did. So I think we’ve done a good job delivering a budget that sticks to our conservative principles, focuses on the priorities that we know are important but also, ultimately, has to get signed by Gov. Evers for us to get it across the finish line,” Vos added.
The Republican budget does reject Evers’ cornerstone grow-government plan to expand Medicaid. Evers and his top bureaucrats rolled out a Department of Revenue report Thursday showing Wisconsin taxpayers will pay nearly $2 billion in the next two years to the 37 states that have taken the federal “free money” to expand Medicaid. What they conveniently left out are the myriad costs and unintended consequences that Medicaid expansion has delivered in several states that took the federal cash.
The Republican budget also jettisons a controversial gas tax hike and accompanying indexing. Thompson called Evers’ proposed gas tax increase — at nearly 10 cents a gallon — and the automatic annual rate-of-inflation raises that would go with it, “the fairest and most affordable way for Wisconsinites to pay for these increases.” When reminded that a majority of Wisconsin voters do not support a gas tax increase, Evers pointed to Ohio and its Republican governor, who recently signed a 10.5 cent boost in the Buckeye State’s gas tax.
“He (Republican Gov. Mike DeWine) was talking about how they raised the tax in Ohio and everyone just kind of took a deep breath and did the right thing, so I’m hoping the same thing will happen here,” Evers said.
The Republican budget raises transportation spending through fee increases, revenue enhancers that Democrats and some conservatives have jumped on as a funding source that takes out-of-state drivers off the hook for helping pay for Wisconsin’s transportation system.
Thompson said Republicans come up about $200 million short compared to Evers’ transportation package, but at least they’re getting there.
“That’s $397 million more of ongoing revenue than they have been able to get in the previous eight years of any of their budgets,” the transportation secretary-designee said. “So it’s much more than where they were, and I do believe it’s because of the leadership of Gov. Evers.”
What should be increasingly clear by now is that, for the left, it will never be enough. Republicans will never be able to keep up with Democrats in the money war, a fiscally dangerous spending race.
“While the Legislature made a decent start, we need to go further,” Evers said.
The question for conservatives may very well be, is the faint praise of insatiable big-government liberals the kind of fiscal endorsement they want?