MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Opposition to the Republicans-written state budget by conservative Wisconsin state senators who say it would spend too much money is putting the GOP in a tough spot, as party leaders try to round up enough votes to pass the two-year plan next week.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed a budget in February, which the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee altered significantly, approving a revised plan last week that would spend less than what Evers proposed and that removed several of his top priorities.
The GOP plan isn’t conservative enough for at least two Republican senators, who said this week they would vote against it in its current form. That would leave the current plan with the minimum 17 votes it would need to pass. It is due for a vote next week.
The current budget runs through June 30, but state government would not shut down if there is a stalemate. Instead, current spending levels would continue until the next two-year budget is enacted.
Sen. David Craig, echoing concerns raised by fellow Republican Sen. Steve Nass on Wednesday, said Thursday that he would vote against the GOP-written budget as it currently stands because he thinks Republicans allowed spending to increase too much.
“What we’re not doing is sharpening our pencil enough,” Craig said on “The Jay Weber Show” on WISN-AM. “What we’re not doing is reforming enough.”
Craig did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.
Evers’ proposed budget would increase spending over two years by 8.3%. The Republican version would increase spending by 5.6%. Craig told WISN-AM he wanted spending to be around 2% a year, which would be closer to the Consumer Price Index.
Craig also voiced opposition to continuing the state’s stewardship program, through which land is purchased by the Department of Natural Resources for preservation and recreation. Craig is also against the transportation funding plan, which empowers the 16-member budget committee to implement a miles-driven fee on motorists in Wisconsin.
“That provision is so egregious it should have never been put in the budget in the first place,” he said.
Republicans have privately been discussing possible changes to the budget ahead of the Assembly’s planned vote on the proposal Tuesday. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said this week that any changes would be minor and technical. The Senate was to take up the budget later next week.
Craig indicated that there could be changes made that would get him to support the plan, but it would require ratcheting down spending and receiving assurances from Evers that he would not use his broad line-item veto power to remove items that Republicans support.
“There is a level of compromise that I think we need to have to have a budget get done at the end of the day but we need to be much more careful about it,” Craig said. But because of Evers’ veto powers, Craig said Republicans are “behind the eight ball” and “in a tough spot right now.”
Democrats have been unified against the current version of the budget because Republicans stripped out many of Evers’ top priorities. The plan wouldn’t expand Medicaid, but would increase spending on health care by $588 million paid for through other means. The GOP plan also would include a middle-class income tax cut, but it wouldn’t increase taxes on manufacturers to pay for it, as Evers wanted.
Republicans also rejected a gas tax increase to pay for roads, opting instead to increase vehicle licensing and registration fees. While they would increase funding for K-12 schools by $500 million and the University of Wisconsin System by $58 million, it would be a fraction of what Evers wanted.
Evers scheduled a news conference for later Thursday with leaders of the state’s transportation and health departments to defend his budget priorities.