Assembly GOP Letter Calls For Bipartisanship, But Leaders Set Limits

Income Tax Cut, Health Care Changes Among Suggested Bipartisan Proposals

Wisconsin State Capitol, Senate
Justin Kern (CC BY-NC-ND)

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans said Thursday there are a number of areas where they can work with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers during the upcoming legislative session, but their leaders also drew lines in the sand over some of Evers’ campaign proposals.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said GOP lawmakers delivered a letter to Evers’ office Thursday morning outlining some potential areas of common ground, including cutting income taxes, increasing K-12 education spending and guaranteeing health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Vos said the letter is a “good faith effort” to foster cooperation and avoid partisan clashes during the first days of the new administration.

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“We’re going to have plenty of those fights over the next two years, but it certainly doesn’t need to happen in the first week,” Vos said.

Republicans hold a 63-36 majority in the state Assembly and 19-14 majority in the Senate. Vos said Senate and Assembly Republicans will meet with Evers next week to discuss the proposals.

A spokeswoman for Evers characterized the letter as a “change of heart” for GOP lawmakers.

“However, actions speak louder than words,” said Melissa Baldauff, Evers’ spokeswoman. “We hope Speaker Vos and his caucus will work with the governor to make progress on these important priorities.”

Speaking with reporters in Madison, Vos said one major area of consensus could be a tax cut for middle-income families — something Evers proposed on the campaign trail. Vos also pointed to a possible bipartisan solution to the state’s road funding challenges.

“We know the debt level for transportation is way too high,” Vos said. “There’s a lot of blame to go around, hopefully there will be a lot of solutions to be found.”

During the last legislative session, Assembly Republicans expressed willingness to increase the state’s gas tax to pay for road projects. Evers has also said he is open to that. However, support for that proposal in the state Senate is uncertain.

Vos said he’s optimistic the GOP-controlled Assembly and Senate will find common ground this session.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a whole lot of disagreement between the Senate and the Assembly because we understand it’s our job to stop the growth of government at a rate that Wisconsin taxpayers can’t afford,” he said.

Vos also said conservative lawmakers hope to work hand-in-hand with the Democratic governor on issue likes combating homelessness, expanding high-speed internet access in rural parts of the state, increasing access to affordable child care, protecting the state’s groundwater and attracting more workers to Wisconsin.

However, the speaker said some of the governor’s biggest campaign promises will be non-starters with the Assembly, including accepting a federal expansion of Medicaid.

“He knows we’re not going to expand Medicaid,” Vos said.

Evers has argued the expansion would lower health care costs, while Republicans say it could come with unexpected expenses down the road for the state.

Vos also said Assembly Republicans would not approve a budget that makes changes to the state’s tax cut program for manufacturers and farms, known as the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit. Evers has said he would consider decreasing tax credits for high-income earners in that program.

“That’s a massive tax increase, we’re not going to do a massive tax increase,” Vos said of that plan.

Vos said he would prefer to use the governor’s budget proposal, which is expected in the coming months, as a starting point for negotiations on state spending, but said Republicans may be forced to write their own budget if Evers’ contains too many politically unpalatable proposals.

“If he puts in dozens of Democratic policy planks, it’s just not going to work,” Vos said.

The speaker also rebuffed two new attempts to challenge the Legislature’s extraordinary session actions from December in court, one filed by a coalition of liberal groups and another by a Democratic state lawmaker.