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Assembly Republicans see compromise with Tony Evers on K-12 funding, income tax reduction

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Robin Vos seeks areas of agreement

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, right, sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers identifying several areas where he thinks they agree, including tax cuts, rural broadband expansion, funding two-thirds of K-12 public education, addressing homelessness and cutting transportation debt levels. At left is Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.

Assembly Republicans in a letter to Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday said they would work with him on a host of issues, including income tax reductions and funding two-thirds of K-12 public education, as the Democrat prepares to assemble his first budget.

The letter, described as “a show of bipartisanship,” comes as Evers settles into the office and several liberal groups challenge in a lawsuit the GOP’s lame-duck legislation that undermined some of the governor’s and attorney general’s powers.

Evers on the campaign trail had vowed to reduce income taxes for the middle class by 10 percent, and as state superintendent asked for a $1.4 billion boost in funding for K-12 public schools.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a news conference Thursday repeated previous calls for Republicans to craft their own budget instead of working from Evers’ if the new governor proposes tax increases or an expansion of Medicaid.

“My goal is not to craft our own budget,” Vos said. “But that starts with the understanding that we are not going to raise income taxes, period.”

Vos this week hired additional staffers, some from former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. In a previous interview with the Wisconsin State Journal he said they would be hired to deal with administrative rules, communications and budget writing.

Evers will make the first move in the budget cycle, likely introducing his version in late February after Vos said lawmakers would likely grant him an extension for introducing it.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said she’s encouraged Assembly Republicans are open to Evers’ ideas on funding K-12 education, protecting health care and addressing transportation funding, but needs to see more.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Baldauff said in a statement. “We hope Speaker Vos and his caucus will work with the governor to make progress on these important priorities.”

Vos acknowledged the heightened chance of a recession affecting the U.S. economy in coming years, arguing the possibility should prompt lawmakers to reduce the size of government and increase the state’s rainy-day fund.

Assembly Republicans wrote they would be willing to compromise on several issues they said Evers mentioned on the campaign trail, such as enhancing internet access, evaluating ways to save money on state-owned buildings, reducing debt payments in the transportation budget, ensuring clean drinking water and preventing homelessness.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said the list of potential compromise areas is not exhaustive, but rather a starting point. Vos and Steineke declined to provide details on how to tackle transportation funding or to what extent they would agree to reduce income taxes.

Vos in an interview Thursday with a conservative talk show on 1130 WISN said he and Republicans would not approve more controversial Democratic proposals such as a $15 minimum wage, driver’s licenses for immigrants living in the country illegally, legalizing marijuana, rolling back school voucher programs or expanding abortion rights.

The lawmakers vowed the first bill they would pass this session would guarantee health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, after the state Senate during December’s lame-duck session failed to pass similar legislation.

Sens. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, and Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, circulated a bill Thursday with more than 60 co-sponsors that would guarantee health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

In a move to potentially stem major disagreement with Republicans in the other chamber, Vos said GOP members of the Assembly plan to meet with colleagues in the Senate next week.

A handful of Republican senators have previously stymied some of their party’s efforts in the Assembly, most notably in 2015, when Vos called three conservative senators “terrorists” for holding up the budget process, a comment for which he later apologized.

The Republicans provided no mention of working with the new governor on his vow to take federal dollars to expand Medicaid, nor a proposal by Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul to pass a so-called “red-flag” law that would allow judges to take away firearms from people determined to be a threat to themselves or others.

Vos told Monday he was open to the idea, but was concerned the law’s scope could be too broad.

Assembly Republicans said they remain open to additional pay increases for state workers, directed toward the hardest to fill positions.

The comments come after the Department of Corrections reported earlier this week it paid out more than $50 million in overtime in 2018 due to staffing shortages at adult correctional facilities.

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