Wisconsin Republican Leaders on Different Tracks Regarding Governor's Tax Cut Plan

Feb 12, 2014

The state Assembly on Tuesday approved a bill that would reduce income and property taxes in 2014.
Credit bcdixit

The Assembly quickly advanced Gov. Walker's plan to return money to taxpayers, while the Senate is not yet ready to act.

Gov. Scott Walker’s tax plan breezed through the Assembly on Tuesday, along party lines. The bill would use half of a projected $1 billion surplus to lower income and property taxes this year.

While the Assembly’s Republican leader easily delivered party votes, his counterpart in the Senate is not ready. The two GOP leaders don’t see eye to eye on the governor’s plan.

State Republican leaders have closely followed Gov. Walker’s lead on legislation and budgeting, ever since taking office in 2011. Last month, when Walker outlined his plan to cut taxes in his State of the State address, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos jumped right out of the gate and endorsed the plan.

“I think Gov. Walker has found the perfect way to take that surplus and instead of spending it on more government programs, putting it right back in the hands of moms and dads and brand new homeowners and struggling seniors all across the state,” Vos says.

Vos put the measure on a fast track; an Assembly committee quickly convened and passed the plan. Then he scheduled the bill for Tuesday’s floor vote.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald criticized Vos for his speedy action, calling it inappropriate. Fitzgerald reportedly wanted Republican leaders to sit down first and map out a compromise. He had indicated, immediately following the governor’s address, that the tax cut plan would be a “tough sell” to his caucus.

“I’ve got a couple members that right now are still concerned about that structural deficit. I need a minimum of 17 votes, so we’ll be going senator to senator, talking to them about the package,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald has not yet scheduled the bill for floor debate in the Senate. He’s indicated he wants the measure to go first, to the Joint Finance Committee.

UW-La Crosse Political Scientist Joe Heim acknowledges a rift between the two GOP leaders. Heim says when Fitzgerald was first elected Senate Majority Leader in 2011 his counterpart in the Assembly was his brother, Jeff.

“I think they obviously worked together very well. Robin Vos is a different character, he’s a different person. He’s much more aggressive and a little more focused politically. He has a very large margin, a 60-39 majority to play with, whereas Fitzgerald has a much narrower margin, so he has to pay a lot more attention to his own constituency and his own legislators who don’t necessarily like all the specifics of different bills,” Heim says.

Heim says this isn’t the first time legislative leaders from the same party have had differences of opinion. He says when Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, leaders clashed on a number of issues, such as a clean energy initiative in 2010. So Heim sees the rift between Vos and Fitzgerald as a bump in the road, not a party in crisis.

“It gives the appearance of it, but it is short term. Once they get this done, nobody’s going to worry too much about some of the details. If a little more money goes into one item and a little less into another, by and large, I think the public won’t see this as a substantial difference,” Heim says.

Heim predicts Republicans will resolve their differences on the tax plan, mainly, because it’s Gov. Walker’s signature, election-year proposal. In fact, Heim foresees the Senate merely tweaking the measure.