Assembly Republicans extended what they called a "hand of bipartisanship" to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday, sharing a list of initiatives they said they'd like to work on together.
"Unlike the gridlock in Washington D.C., Wisconsin prides itself on getting work done in a timely fashion, a value I hope we are able to maintain together," said Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, a co-chair of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, in a statement.
In the letter, hand delivered to the newly sworn-in governor's office, the lawmakers said they thought it would be helpful to outline areas where they see opportunities to work across the aisle. Those initiatives include cutting income taxes, boosting state support for K-12 education, protecting the state's groundwater supply and expanding options for affordable child care.
The legislators said the first bill they plan to pass in the Assembly is a guarantee that health insurance companies cannot deny coverage to people who have pre-existing conditions.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters his goal as the legislative session begins is to "try at least for the foreseeable future to avoid picking topics that we know will be divisive, that we know will draw contrast between the two parties." Instead, Vos said, Assembly Republicans will focus on campaign promises from Evers where they believe they could find agreement — "the Venn diagram, as it were."
"It's great to hear that Assembly Republicans have had a change of heart and now support so many of Governor Evers' good ideas that will protect healthcare for Wisconsinites, promote healthier communities, fully fund our schools, address our transportation crisis, and empower working families," said Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. "However, actions speak louder than words. We hope Speaker Vos and his caucus will work with the governor to make progress on these important priorities."
Vos said Evers has agreed to meet with Assembly and Senate Republicans in a joint caucus meeting on Jan. 15.
Although he said he doesn't want to draw lines in the sand heading into any policy discussions, Vos also made clear that there are some proposals the Republican Assembly majority will not approve, including any efforts to raise income taxes or accept the federal Medicaid expansion.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said he expects the Legislature will go it alone on crafting a state budget rather than working from what Evers proposes this spring. But Vos said his goal is to work with Evers on the spending plan.
"It’s not my first goal. My first goal would be let’s do what we’ve done in the past which is to find areas of consensus and work together," Vos said.
Despite previous disagreements between Senate and Assembly Republicans on how to fund the state's transportation needs, Vos said he is hopeful the majority party can be united across the Legislature during this session.
"We are going to be united on the vast majority of issues," he said. "We have to remember we’re on the same team. We have to stand united and find ways to work together."
The Assembly Republicans' message of goodwill comes about a month after an extraordinary session that limited some powers of the incoming governor and attorney general, a move Democrats have decried as a "power grab."
Vos dismissed the criticisms, arguing the lame-duck laws were passed to ensure "cooperation would be required" between the legislative and executive branches.