Gov. Scott Walker‘s proposal to ease environmental standards survived the Legislature’s first swing of the budget axe Tuesday.
But state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, a co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, offered assurances his Republican-dominated panel would remain independent of the state’s executive branch. The JFC will spend the next several weeks reworking the budget.
“When we have finished this process, what will be created is a budget that is in the middle ground,” Vos said. “We will not accept all of the governor’s things that he has proposed, and we will not accept all of the changes that are offered by people that have concerns.”
It’s important, Vos said, for the Legislature to retain and exercise its separate power.
“I can say there are some areas where I know we are going to be different than the governor,” he said.
Among those areas Vos and other Republicans said they differed from Walker was the governor’s proposal to eliminate the recycling mandate for municipalities.
Nonetheless, Republicans on Tuesday voted to include several Walker budget items the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau classified as “nonfiscal policy nature and not closely related to the state’s fiscal programs.”
The nonfiscal items cover a wide spectrum, from making changes to charter schools to delaying implementation of stricter phosphorus rules that were approved by the Doyle administration.
Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, called it “questionable” that the budget included “environmental aspects of the stewardship of public access and water quality standards and phosphorus limits.”
Mixing policy objectives into the budget has worked in the past, Shilling said, but voters are paying closer attention this time.
“They are following us like never before, and I think they’re smart,” Shilling said. “We need to give them credit that there are items that are not appropriately before us in this budget, and they are going to catch wind of some of these things.”
Vos and co-chairwoman Alberta Darling, a Republican senator from River Hills, removed 21 nonfiscal items, but let 25 others, including the environmental policies, remain. Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, motioned to remove all of them, but the JFC rejected her request on a party-line vote.
Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, lamented the continuing practice of governors and lawmakers in the majority establishing policies through the budget. Jauch opposed the same efforts of Gov. Jim Doyle, he said.
Governors, Jauch said, “use the budget as a catch basin for legislation that may not survive in the public eye, in the light of day.”
Republicans are failing to meet their commitment to changing the state’s political culture, Jauch said.
“I thought this was going to be a majority that would do things differently,” he said. “That was the promise that was made to the public.
“Yet when you look at the long list of items that remain in here that should be debated as separate pieces of legislation, this institution is poorly serving the people of Wisconsin.”
Vos, who refused to discuss individual nonfiscal items, said he was following the same protocol established when Democrats held the majority. The justification for including the items that had been classified as nonfiscal, Vos said, was that every one of them would affect the budget of some unit of government.
“I can make a legitimate case for everything in here that it has a direct or indirect fiscal cost to either the state, local governments or one of the agencies we deal with,” Vos said. “That’s part of the criteria we used.”
And, in case Democrats didn’t like that answer, Vos asserted it was “much more in-depth than the nondebate we heard from the majority two years ago.”