By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Assembly Republicans delivered what they called a “gesture of our goodwill” to the newly installed governor on Thursday, saying they’d like to find common ground on transportation funding and other matters.
In a letter delivered to Gov. Tony Evers, GOP lawmakers said they were trying to be helpful by listing their priorities, which include relying less on borrowing to pay for roadwork, reducing income taxes and spending more on schools.
The overture came after Republicans had passed legislation to weaken the powers of the incoming governor, who defeated Gov. Scott Walker at the polls in November. Yet, even as Assembly Republicans said they were reaching out in a spirit compromise, they were adding staff to prepare for the possibility that they might put forward an alternative state budget to the one Evers will propose.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos insisted at a news conference on Thursday that Republicans are trying to find common ground with Evers. To that end, he said, Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly will hold an unusual joint meeting on Tuesday to speak privately with Evers.
“We know that we are in divided government. It’s different times,” Vos said. “This is a good faith effort for us to say we’re looking at what he promised, what we think we can deliver and find ways to be able to do that together.”
Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said Evers hopes Republicans will work with him to make progress on priorities such as health care, transportation and schools.
“However, actions speak louder than words,” Baldauff said in a statement.
The Republicans said the first bill they intend to pass is a state-level guarantee stipulating that people with pre-existing health conditions can’t be denied insurance, a protection already guaranteed by the federal health-care law commonly known as Obamacare. Republicans have been opposed to that law since its adoption in Barack Obama’s presidency.
The Assembly had passed its own pre-existing conditions bill in 2017 only to see it later die in the Senate. The chances of getting something similar through the Senate this year appear questionable at best. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he didn’t want to “overpromise” anything by suggesting such a proposal is now likely to fare better.
Evers appears to share many priorities with Republicans but is nonetheless in favor of pursuing his goals by means other than those supported by GOP lawmakers. For example, Evers agrees that reducing income taxes should be a goal. But in calling for income taxes to be decreased by 10 percent, he is saying that whatever money is lost should be made up by reducing a tax break for corporations by $300 million.
Vos, for his part, has said any such policy would in fact amount to a “massive tax increase.” In their letter listing their priorities, Assembly Republicans did not put a dollar amount on how large an income-tax reduction they are seeking or say how they would be paid for it.
Vos also opposes Evers’ call to expand Medicaid to cover about 75,000 more adults living just above the poverty line. Such a change would actually save the state an estimated $180 million a year, but Vos has raised concerns about a proposal that would put more people on assistance without also raising reimbursement rates for providers.
Evers has called for increasing spending on K-12 schools by 10 percent, which would amount to an additional $1.4 billion. A bipartisan task force released a report last week also calling for significant increases in spending but stopping short of saying how much of an increase is needed.
Evers, that task force and Assembly Republicans all say they want the state to provide two-thirds of schools’ funding, which would increase the state’s payments for school aid by about $130 million a year.
Meanwhile, some of the other priorities listed by Republicans were:
- Improving access to high-speed internet.
- Combating homelessness.
- Providing more options to reduce the cost of child care for working parents.
- Increasing access to clean water. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos formed a clean-water task force earlier this month in response to reports of contaminated wells in southwestern Wisconsin.
- Spending more on state-owned properties.
- Doing more to attract and retain highly qualified state employees.