A senator from the most fiscally conservative wing of the Senate GOP caucus announced on Wednesday he would vote “no” on his party’s two-year spending plan, citing its effect on the long-term deficit and increases in some taxes and fees.
The announcement from Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, means Republicans can afford to lose only one more GOP vote for the budget to pass in the Senate, assuming no Democrats vote for it. Republicans control the Senate by a 19-14 majority.
The biennial budget plan approved by GOP lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee last week would also need approval from the state Assembly, where Republicans have a commanding majority, and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has been skeptical of the plan.
“I simply can’t deceive the taxpayers by voting for a budget that creates a significant structural deficit, generates the largest property tax hikes in a decade, contains unsustainable levels of excessive spending and authorizes an extremely offensive new vehicle miles-driven tax on motorists starting in 2023,” Nass said in a statement. “This is not a conservative budget by any reasonable analysis. I will vote ‘no.’”
Nass’ statement received a response early Wednesday from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who defended the Republican plan for cutting taxes for the middle class, reducing state borrowing and stopping Medicaid expansion.
“I’m disappointed that Senator Nass couldn’t find a way to vote for the budget,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “He’s a good legislator who was very involved in the process at every step. This budget is a strong counterpunch to the budget that Governor Evers introduced in February.”
There are other fiscal hawks in the Senate who could join him. Those include Sens. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend; Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville; and Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield.
Stroebel and Kapenga haven’t yet disclosed whether they’d vote for the GOP budget, though Stroebel did vote to send the final budget package out of committee last week.
In his statement, Nass disclosed several complaints about the GOP budget package, including its effect on property taxes, its creation of a larger structural deficit and increases to vehicle title and registration fees.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the Republican budget plan would increase property taxes on the $174,000 median-valued home by about 2% in the budget’s first year and 1.6% in the second.
To put more money toward the state’s roads, it would increase the state’s current $75 vehicle registration fee by $10 and more than double the $70 vehicle title fee.
Evers, on the other hand, wanted to raise the gas tax by 8 cents per gallon and increase fees on heavy trucks.
Nass also chided the GOP budget’s effect on the structural deficit. It would create a $1.4 billion structural deficit at the start of the next budget period in 2021 compared to the lower $865 million shortfall created by the last state budget. Evers’ budget would create a nearly $2 billion budget deficit, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, chided the Republican plan as fiscally irresponsible for other reasons than what Nass outlined. She argued the plan “protects tax breaks for millionaires” while raising property taxes “by the highest amount in a decade.”
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows both Evers’ and the Republican spending plans would increase property taxes by the same amount.
The GOP budget will likely be taken up by the full Assembly and Senate next week.