MADISON, Wis. — A Republican Wisconsin state senator vowed Wednesday to vote against the budget in its current form, leaving the GOP with room to lose only one more vote in the Senate to have enough to pass it without Democratic support.
The two-year, nearly $82 billion budget won approval by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee last week. Republicans made several significant changes to what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed, but some of the most conservative lawmakers have been complaining for weeks about spending levels still being too high.
Sen. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, made his opposition official Wednesday. The Assembly is scheduled to take it up on Tuesday, followed by the Senate. Republicans hold a much larger 63-36 majority in the Assembly, giving them more room to lose votes and still have enough to pass it.
In the Senate, the Republican majority is 19-14. That means only one more Republican could join Nass in voting against it to still have the 17 votes needed to win approval.
Democrats have been unified against the current version of the budget because Republicans stripped out many of Evers' top priorities. They did not expand Medicaid, but did increase spending on health care by $588 million paid for through other means. Republicans included a middle-class income tax cut, but didn'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 increased funding for K-12 schools by $500 million and the University of Wisconsin System by $58 million, it was a fraction of what Evers wanted.
For Nass, even the pared back budget — which increases spending 5.6% — goes too far. Under the Evers budget, spending would have gone up 8.3%. Nass listed 10 specific grievances in explaining his opposition and said he had additional concerns.
"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.
Nass' concerns include a projected property tax increase on a median-valued $174,000 home of 3.6% over two years; a projected $1.4 billion deficit at the start of the next budget beginning in 2021; and nearly $2 billion in spending on building construction projects.
Nass also said he objected to a provision that would give 16-member Join Finance Committee the ability to implement a new tax based on how many miles a particular vehicle is driven.
Other conservative senators have also been voicing concerns with parts of the budget but have yet to say how they would vote.
Nass joined with Sens. Duey Stroebel and Chris Kapenga to hold up passage of the last budget until September 2017, nearly three months late, and got concessions from then-Gov. Scott Walker. Their opposition 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 did vote against the road funding plan that increases fees and makes it possible for the committee to implement a per-mile fee later.
Republican Sen. David Craig has called the level of transportation spending in the budget plan "gravely concerning." He didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday. Kapenga hasn't voiced his opinion on the plan and did not immediately return a message.