Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is still smarting from last month’s rocky resolution to the state budget debate, calling three Republican senators who struck a deal with Gov. Scott Walker to support the budget “terrorists.”
“That’s what they are,” Vos said in a WISN-TV interview that aired Sunday. “You don’t hold somebody hostage for your own personal needs.”
Vos was addressing Sens. Chris Kapenga of Delafield, Steve Nass of Whitewater and Duey Stroebel of Saukville, three hard-line conservative GOP senators who appeared ready to block passage of the 2017-19 budget last month, before striking a last-minute deal with Walker to pass it.
But Vos said the budget might not have passed had the contents of that deal, which called for Walker to use his line-item veto authority to strip out parts of the budget, been public before other lawmakers voted on it.
“Nobody else was involved. Only three people made a backroom deal,” Vos said. “Maybe the budget would’ve failed if we’d known some of those aspects were going to be vetoed, but we never had the chance to know.”
The two-year state budget was passed more than 10 weeks after the deadline, the longest such delay in a decade. Vos’ latest comments show tension from that process remains high — and further call into question how much a divided GOP Legislature will accomplish for the remainder of the 2017-18 legislative session.
Responding to Vos’ use of the term “terrorists,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said in a statement that “it’s unacceptable the word was used to describe good public servants at a time when our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorism around the world.”
Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen responded with a statement saying Vos, during the budget process, fought for measures including a gas tax increase, toll roads and property tax increases. A budget provision supported by Assembly Republicans but vetoed from the budget by Walker would have increased the amount school districts that spend less per student than the state average can raise in property taxes.
“Most of his efforts were defeated by conservative legislators working with the governor to protect taxpayers,” Mikalsen said.
Stroebel said in a statement that “Wisconsinites expect more of their leaders than to make these kind of personal attacks.” He also defended his deal with Walker, saying he “worked with Senate colleagues and the governor to ensure the budget bill represented the best interest of all Wisconsinites by slowing the growth of government and establishing important reforms.”
Kapenga could not be reached for comment.
In exchange for their support for the budget, the three senators struck an accord with Walker to use his line-item authority to make a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage requirement take effect immediately, instead of a year later. The deal also called for Walker to limit the days on which school districts may hold referendum votes, removed funding for the state’s Transportation Projects Commission and stripped out an expansion of power for the state Public Finance Authority.
In the remainder of the legislative session, lawmakers are expected to consider proposals from business and conservative groups to change the workers’ compensation system, loosen mining restrictions and wetland protections and scrap state family and medical leave protections that overlap with federal ones. They also will grapple with bills targeting so-called sanctuary cities, restricting use of fetal tissue in research and allowing concealed firearms to be carried without permits and in school zones.
But Capitol observers have said the bad blood between Assembly and Senate Republicans could grind the legislative session to a standstill.
Vos’ remarks Sunday were just the latest comments he’s made expressing displeasure with the budget process. In September, he sent texts to Walker on the subject that were later made public.
“Very disappointed in the way I’ve been treated...not even the courtesy of a phone call before you took out things that were important to me,” he said in one. In another he says, “I won’t forget this.”
Asked about those texts in the WISN-TV interview, Vos said, “I consider myself one of Gov. Walker’s best allies” and said he hashed the matter out with Walker after he returned from Asia, where the governor was when Vos sent the texts.
“I try to be honest and upfront,” Vos said. “Others don’t have the ability to do that.”