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Conservative budget foes put Wisconsin GOP in tough spot

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Opposition from a pair of conservative Wisconsin state senators to the Republican-written state budget is putting GOP leaders in a tough spot as they try to round up enough votes to pass the two-year spending plan next week.

The budget agreed to by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee would spend less than what Gov. Tony Evers had proposed in his plan while removing several of Evers’ top priorities. However, two Republican senators have said they will vote against the GOP plan because they think it wouldn’t go far enough to reduce spending. That would leave the current proposal with the minimum 17 votes it needs to pass.

Sen. David Craig, echoing concerns raised by fellow Republican Sen. Steve Nass, said Thursday that he would vote against the current GOP-written budget because he thinks it would allow 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.

Another conservative Republican whose position was previously in question, Sen. Duey Stroebel, said he would vote for the budget.

“It represents a good blend of what we stand for and what the governor should sign,” Stroebel said Thursday. He expressed confidence that despite opposition from the two other Republicans, “we’re going to get this thing done.”

Evers, surrounded by Democratic legislators and members of his Cabinet, suggested at a news conference that the resistance from rank-and-file Republicans gives GOP leaders an opportunity to bring their plan closer in line to what he had proposed.

The GOP budget omitted Evers’ proposals to make more people eligible for Medicaid and increase the state’s gas tax to pay for road improvements. It also would allocate less money to schools, including the University of Wisconsin System.

Evers said Republicans have made a “decent start” but that they need to go further by putting more money into Medicaid and schools and accepting his gas tax increase.

“The Legislature needlessly picked winners and losers when they could have had it all,” he said. “I firmly believe if they ignore the will of the people, they do it at their own peril.”

Evers refused to say whether he would veto the entire budget if it passes in its current form, saying he won’t make that decision until after the proposal finally clears the Legislature. Evers has the power to use partial vetoes to make significant changes.

The current budget runs through June 30, but state government would not shut down if there ends up being a stalemate. Instead, current spending levels would continue until the next two-year budget is enacted.

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 expressed opposition to continuing the state’s stewardship program, which lets the Department of Natural Resources buy land and set it aside for preservation and recreation. Craig is also against other Republican’s transportation plan, which would give the state’s 16-member budget committee an option to collect a miles-driven fee from 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 he expects Republicans to make small changes, such as adopting proposals meant to further reduce property taxes.

“I don’t think we’ll need to make big changes,” Vos told reporters Thursday. “I’m proud of the budget we have. We’re not going to have wholesale reductions or increases.”

Craig said there could be changes made that would get him to support the plan, but winning him over would require ratcheting down spending and receiving assurances from Evers that he would not use his broad line-item veto power to remove Republican priorities.

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