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GOP senator vows to vote against state budget (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican state senator vowed on Wednesday to vote against the state budget in its current form, leaving the GOP with room to lose only one more vote in the Senate and still have enough to pass the plan without Democratic support.

The two-year, nearly $82 billion budget won approval from the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee last week after Republicans made several big changes to what Gov. Tony Evers’ original proposals. Even so, some conservative lawmakers were complaining that the revised plan would still spend too much.

Sen. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, made his opposition official on Wednesday. His position now threatens to greatly complicate budget’s path through the state Legislature.

The Assembly is scheduled to take the plan up on Tuesday, followed by the Senate. Republicans hold a much larger 63-36 majority in the Assembly, giving them plenty of room to lose votes and still have enough to pass something.

In the Senate, the Republicans’ majority is 19-14. That means Republicans can have only more state Senator take the same position as Nass and still have the 17 votes needed to pass the state budget without Democratic support.

Democrats have been unified against the current version of the budget after Republicans stripped out many of Evers’ top priorities. GOP lawmakers, for instance, decided not to accept federal money to offer Medicaid benefits to more people, but did propose other ways to increase spending on health care by $588 million. Republicans also included a provision meant to reduce income taxes, but didn’t follow Evers’ call to pay for such a reduction by increasing taxes on manufacturers.

Republicans also rejected a plan to pay for roads by increasing the state’s gas tax, choosing instead to increase vehicle-licensing and registration fees. And although they would increase spending on K-12 schools by $500 million and the University of Wisconsin System by $58 million, those amounts would nonetheless be a fraction of what Evers had wanted.

For Nass, even the pared-back budget — which would increase spending by 5.6% — would go too far.  In explaining his opposition, Nass listed 10 specific grievances.

“This is not a conservative budget by any reasonable analysis,” he said in a statement. “I will vote ‘No.'”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he was disappointed that Nass “couldn’t find a way to vote for the budget.” Fitzgerald also defended the Republican plan, calling it a “strong counterpunch” and a “conservative check” to Evers’ proposal.

Listing his reasons for concern, Nass cited projections holding that the budget would cause property taxes to go up by 3.6% over the next two years on homes worth the median value of $174,000; lead to a $1.4 billion deficit at the start of the state’s next budget, in 2021; and approve nearly $2 billion worth of spending on building projects.

Nass also objected to a provision that would give the state’s 16-member Join Finance Committee the ability to adopt a new tax that would be collected according to how many miles a particular vehicle is driven. Other conservative Senators have similarly expressed concerns about the budget but have yet to say how they will vote.

Nass joined Sens. Duey Stroebel and Chris Kapenga to hold up the adoption of the state’s current budget until September 2017, making it nearly three months late. Their stances led Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to call them “terrorists” and “rogue holdouts,” descriptions he later apologized for.

Stroebel was a member of the budget committee this year. He voted to advance the budget out of committee last week but only voting against the roads plan that would increase registration fees and authorize the adoption of per-mile fees.

Sen. David Craig, a Republican from Big Bend, has called the amount of transportation spending proposed in the budget plan “gravely concerning.” He didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday. Kapenga hasn’t expressed an opinion on the plan and did not immediately return a message.

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