MADISON, Wis. — Opposition by 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.
Republicans planned to make changes to the budget before voting on it next week, including reducing a property tax increase and giving the full Legislature, rather than a committee, the power to impose a new fee on drivers.
The budget agreed to by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee would spend less than what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed in his plan and removed several of Evers' top priorities. However, two Republican senators have said they would vote against the GOP plan because they think it doesn't go far enough in cutting spending. That would leave the current proposal with the minimum 17 votes it would need 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 Republicans allowed 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.
One other 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 reticence from Republicans gives GOP leaders the opportunity to bring their plan closer in line to what he proposed, however unlikely they would be to do that.
The GOP budget omitted Evers' proposed expansion of Medicaid eligibility and a gas tax increase to pay for road improvements. It also would allocate less money to education, including the University of Wisconsin System.
Evers said Republicans have made a "decent start" but that they need to go further by expanding Medicaid, further increasing education funding 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 determination until after the proposal finally clears the Legislature. Evers has the power to make significant changes with partial vetoes.
The current budget runs through June 30, but state government would not shut down if there is 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 voiced opposition to continuing the state's stewardship program, through which land is purchased by the Department of Natural Resources for preservation and recreation. Craig is also against the transportation funding plan, which empowers the 16-member budget committee to implement a miles-driven fee on 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, including further reducing property taxes and giving the Legislature the authority to impose the miles-driven fee.
"I don't think we'll need to make big changes," Vos told reporters. "I'm proud of the budget we have. We're not going to have wholesale reductions or increases."