Tensions between Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are evident in personal text messages between the two, newly released under Wisconsin’s open records law, in which they spar over the state’s next budget.
The texts were released by Walker’s office Friday. They came in response to a Wisconsin State Journal request for text messages between Walker and Vos relating to state business between March 29 and March 31.
The texts give a glimpse of private friction between two of the top three leaders in state government, both Republicans.
In one text, Walker laments being “trashed” by lawmakers for his proposal for the last state budget. Vos, R-Rochester, complains of being shut out from Walker’s crafting of his 2017-19 budget plan.
In another text, Vos criticizes Walker for upstaging a recent hearing of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee with a Twitter post in which the governor vowed to veto a gas tax increase if lawmakers pass one.
“The more your staff keeps injecting themselves into the JFC (Joint Finance Committee) process the more difficult you will make it. Lobbying by Twitter isn’t going to work here,” Vos wrote.
“That’s not staff. That’s me,” Walker responded. “Your members ran ads saying they were against my cuts to education, so I’m assuming they will support my increases.”
In the tweet, Walker also said he doesn’t support spending any less on K-12 schools than the roughly $650 million increase he proposed for the next budget. The tweet was posted as lawmakers were pressing Walker’s new Transportation Secretary, Dave Ross, in a March 29 hearing.
Let's be clear. I don't support spending less on K-12 education than what's in my budget and I will veto a gas tax increase.— Governor Walker (@GovWalker) March 30, 2017
The exchange shows some give-and-take between the two leaders.
Walker pledges to work toward Vos’ priority of more money for roads and bridges, while Vos vows to increase school funding, as Walker proposed.
“There’s no doubt we will support an increase (in K-12 funding) but I’m not sure if we can afford what you propose to give?” Vos wrote. “Since it drives up the structural deficit and actually leaves us in a worse this composition (sic) after this biennium right?”
“I believe we will have decent growth in the future,” Walker responded.
In another exchange, Vos questions Walker’s decision “to not really involve us before the process began unlike each of your other budgets.”
“Without giving us ownership of any thing in your budget, it’s kind of hard for us just a rubber stamp it,” Vos wrote.
Walker responded, referring to his 2015-2017 spending plan: “Unlike the last budget where we met with nearly every member in advance & got trashed.”
Two years ago, Republicans were unusually critical of Walker’s budget proposal, with two of them famously deriding it as “crap.” In the end, 11 Assembly Republicans voted against the budget, which narrowly passed that chamber.
In another text, Walker tells Vos: “I’m willing to work with you on ways to move more money into the transportation fund.”
Walker has pledged to veto a gas-tax increase but has not ruled out other ways to fill the transportation fund, which could include shifting money from the state’s general fund or increasing one of its current revenue sources, vehicle registration fees.
Vos responds: “I’m more than willing to sit down with you so we can work out a deal but taking the line of attack that (Sen.) Duey (Stroebel) is using to somehow say that it’s a choice between funding our schools and having roads we can drive on really isn’t all that helpful is it?”
Walker’s spokesman, Tom Evenson, said in a statement Friday that “Gov. Walker has a long-standing and good working relationship with Speaker Vos.”
“As the speaker said, they agree on almost everything, but where they don’t agree, they will have discussions along with the Senate to reach a solution,” Evenson wrote.
Vos, responding to the release of the text messages, said, “I am probably one of Gov. Walker’s top allies.”
He said the texts show their relationship is so strong Vos can push back when he sees something from Walker he doesn’t like.
“The JFC process has just begun. To that end, Senator Stroebel will continue to discuss the budget with other lawmakers,” Stroebel spokesman Ethan Hollenberger said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.