GOP Legislators Grapple with Budget, Discord

Jun 3, 2013

Republican legislators have not been walking in lockstep this time, with Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget.

The joint finance committee has rescheduled several items, because there was no GOP consensus. They included school funding and vouchers.

Late last week, 11 GOP assemblymen told leadership they’re unhappy with the tax and borrowing components of the spending plan.

Charles Franklin says times have changed, since Walker seemed to have an easy time with the Republican-controlled Legislature when he first took office. Franklin is director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

The Legislature’s finance committee is expected to take up contentious issues this week
Credit flickr/Althouse

"The near unanimity of the Republican legislators in 2011 and 2012 is showing some fractures here.”

One fracture became clear in the letter 11 Republicans handed their party leaders last week. It says they cannot support the biennial spending plan without certain big changes, including deeper tax cuts and less state bonding.

The GOP-led finance committee has already tightened the budget beyond what the governor proposed. Yet Franklin says those moves have not been conservative enough for some.

“There are certainly differences within the party, and within the party in the Assembly, especially when we look at some of those who are most concerned about fiscal issues in the state, and that goes to the issues of borrowing and also tax reform.”

If the 11 vote against the package – along with all the Democrats – the spending plan would fail. JR Ross says it’s also possible the letter writers’ influence will dissipate. He covers the Legislature for

“They may have written a letter that says, ‘this is what we have to have, and we won’t vote for a budget otherwise.’ But if push comes to shove and you’re vote number 50, and the governor’s got you in a room saying, ‘I need your support,’ what are you going to do?”

Ross says he’s witnessed tension throughout the budget process, and it seems linked to the degree of politicians’ ideology.

“They are true believers in the cause, and for them, it’s a matter of principle. A lot of lawmakers you know, you look at what you’re presented with and try to get the best deal you can possibly get, because you realize that you can’t have everything. Some people want everything, and there’s a perception from people who are unhappy with these 11, that they want everything.”

And tough issues remain.

“The tax cut, the Medicaid program, and school choice and K12 education funding. Those are massive pieces of this budget, and they’re also the most contentious right now.”

The near unanimity of the Republican legislators in 2011 and 2012 is showing some fractures here. --Charles Franklin

While the finance committee has reshuffled its agenda several times, state Rep. Scott Suder is confident Republicans will come together.

The Assembly majority leader says he does not feel threatened by the pushback.

“I do not believe that this is a line in the sand. I think this is a way for some members to say, ‘look -- these are serious concerns of ours, we want you to pay attention to them.’”

A longtime observer of the budget process says the GOP contentiousness has not surprised him. Todd Berry is head of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. He says he’s seen divisions within parties time and time again -- but they always heal.

“Ultimately, the 60 Republicans in the Assembly do not want to be put in a position of not passing budget in a timely manner, or not being able to pass a budget, and that ultimately will be what unites them.”

Berry says some political posturing is mainly for show.

“One reason to put a letter out issuing some concerns, is that it gets picked up by (the media), and constituents get to see that their lawmaker is speaking out, articulating a position that they happen to agree with, and so there’s the bigger ‘political PR’ kind of component to this.”

Berry calls the internal disagreements “growing pains,” that come with new legislators and relatively new leadership.