Above all else, the budget that Gov. Scott Walker signed on Sunday is a victory for an assortment of constituencies on the right. Although some fiscal hawks grumbled about the $500 million deficit it creates, the spending that Walker did pursue was largely on behalf of conservative causes.
Among the victories: an income tax cut, an expansion of school choice, the rejection of additional federal Medicaid funds, a cut to the state's environmental stewardship fund, a tax credit for private school tuition and additional work requirements for food stamps recipients. Those are just a few of the measures that conservative Republicans got passed, despite vociferous opposition from Democrats and the obvious discomfort of some moderate Republicans.
And yet, the big news Sunday for Walker isn't that he doubled-down on right-leaning economic policy. The focus, instead, is his veto of a provision that would have allowed the return of for-profit bail bondsmen in Wisconsin and his veto of a measure that would have kicked the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism off the UW-Madison campus. Both had been added to the budget by the Joint Finance Committee.
For Walker, vetoing those provisions was relatively easy politically. Law enforcement, including GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, largely considered the bail bondsmen proposal bad public policy, and a number of conservatives had criticized the WCIJ provision as arbitrary and vindictive.
And yet, the vetoes make Walker look like the adult in the room — the leader who will stand up to petty partisanship and special-interest giveaways in his own party.
To see Walker portrayed as a statesman is too much for some on the left to bear.
"Nice to see @GovWalker able to hit a couple pinatas handed to him, while #WIBudget same failed philosophy as last one," tweeted the liberal One Wisconsin Now.
Walker also used his veto pen to limit the number of students who can participate in an expanded school voucher program to 500 next year and 1,000 the following year. That was the deal he had negotiated with moderate Republicans, but a last-minute amendment would have allowed schools that participate in the existing Racine and Milwaukee school choice programs to accept students outside those cities but not have them count toward the statewide enrollment cap.
The voucher veto therefore preserves the trust Walker may have built up with Senate moderates, whom he may need again in future policy fights.
And yet, the school choice provision in the budget, no matter how small, allows Walker to declare a big symbolic victory for vouchers that is important to the GOP base and reaffirms his status as the darling of national conservatives.