Steven Walters

The GOP’s Young Guns

Some of the newest Assembly Republicans, including four accountants, dictated the final budget.

By - Jun 10th, 2013 10:49 am

There was no ceremony, no bands, no speeches.

But the 2013-15 state budget the Joint Finance Committee forwarded to the full Legislature last week was a generational changing of the guard in Republican leadership of the Legislature.

Sixteen Assembly Republicans – four of them CPAs and most of them in either their first or second terms – and four first-term Senate Republicans teamed with Republican Gov. Scott Walker to dictate the final budget deals on taxes and education.

Forced to smile and join the parade, or be crushed under it, are old-guard Senate Republicans like Mike Ellis, Dale Schultz and Rob Cowles, who have served in the Legislature a total of 102 years. Ellis and Schultz are up for re-election in 2014, if they don’t retire.

Howard Marklein

Howard Marklein

A former Senate majority leader, Schultz faces a primary challenge next year from one of the new Assembly Republicans, second-term Rep. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green.

Conservatives are searching for a primary opponent for Ellis, even though no one knows the ins and outs of budgeting better than him. Ellis, 72, has said he plans to run again.

Sure, Ellis and Schultz won some victories – killing Walker’s plan for private-school vouchers for special-education students and the governor’s idea to create a statewide board that could ignore local residents’ wishes and approve new charter schools.

But 11 of the 16 it’s-our-turn Assembly Republicans flexed their muscles on May 30, when they did their Martin Luther imitation and nailed their “what must be in the budget” encyclical to the doors of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Suder. (The 11 Republicans, all members of the assembly, included David Craig, Chris Kapenga, Stephen Nass, Tyler August, Duey Stroebel, Gary Tauchen, Rob Hutton, Joe Sanfelippo, Paul Tittl, Adam Neylon and Don Pridemore.)

The importance of that number 11: If they all voted against the budget, it would have only 49 votes – one short of the 50 required to pass a budget in the Assembly.

None of the 39 Assembly Democrats will vote for a Republican-crafted budget, even though it would designate the Racine kringle – made in the district of Democratic Rep. Cory Mason – the official state pastry. The GOP budget will also get no votes from the 14 Senate Democrats.

Why it was a risk-free encyclical for those 11 Republicans: Two of them were unopposed in their last elections; the other nine won by an average of 63 percent last November.

The letter from the 11 Assembly Republicans told four of their peers on the Finance Committee – Reps. Pat Strachota, Dale Kooyenga, Dean Knudson and John Klenke – to keep fighting their Senate GOP elders on these issues:

*Boosting – or even doubling – the income tax cut that Walker recommended in February. This could be done because an additional $500 million in tax collections is now expected by mid-2015, Assembly Republicans argued. The Finance Committee’s tax cut will total about $650 million, up significantly from Walker’s first proposal.

*Killing the proposal of Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to require DNA testing of about 68,000 more suspected criminals arrested in connection with a felony or other serious crimes. That was weakened significantly minutes before the Finance Committee took its final budget vote.

*Reducing long-term borrowing proposed by Walker in February. As a result, the Finance Committee dialed back the $2.16 billion in borrowing requested by the governor by $368 million, or 17 percent.

But the new Republican power brokers scored their biggest victory by getting Walker’s top priority – expansion of vouchers that let students attend private schools at state expense – statewide, although only 500 new voucher students could be added next year and 1,000 the following year.

Vos also championed expanding vouchers statewide, even though no district (outside Milwaukee and Racine) could have more than 1 percent of its students use vouchers. Vos and Walker know that, once vouchers are authorized statewide, it will be be easy in the future – or with a Walker veto – to remove the 500/1,000 limits on the number of participants.

The it’s-our-turn Republicans also added a $30-million tax deduction for parents who send their children to private schools, starting with the 2014 tax year. It will give the parent of a high school student a $10,000 tax deduction.

The Finance Committee budget is only two votes – by the full Assembly and Senate – from Walker’s desk, Vos told reporters. “Our goal is to have no changes made.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email

5 thoughts on “The GOP’s Young Guns”

  1. Jerad says:

    Hey Steven, just wondering if you could show how you got to the $10,000 figure regarding a high school student and the private school tax credit? I’m reading into the budget and this is what I see….

    “The maximum credit that may be claimed under the bill per year, per child, if
    the claimant files as a single individual or head of household, or if the claimant is a
    married person filing a joint return, is phased in from 2014 to 2019. Under the bill,
    for taxable year 2014, the maximum credit that may be claimed is $1,000 for an
    elementary pupil (a pupil in kindergarten or grades one to eight) and $1,500 for a
    secondary pupil (a pupil in grades nine to twelve); in 2015, $1,100 for an elementary
    pupil and $1,700 for a secondary pupil; in 2016, $1,200 for elementary and $1,900
    for secondary; in 2017, $1,300 for elementary and $2,100 for secondary; for 2018,
    $1,400 for elementary and $2,300 for secondary; for 2019 and thereafter, $1,500 for elementary and $2,500 for secondary”

    I’d love to be able to shout on the rooftops the ridiculousness of the $10,000 figure but would like to have supporting information before I do so.

  2. The $10,000 figure is the annual credit of $2,500 x four years of high school.

  3. David Pritchard says:

    Is the proposed tax break a tax deduction, as Steve’s story says, or a tax credit, as Jerad’s post asserts? I have seen it reported both ways. The difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit is not insignificant.

  4. Bruce Murphy says:

    David, it’s a tax deduction, according to Leg Fiscal Bureau, so Steve’s report is correct. And yes, when law is fully phased-in, it gives $10,000 deduction over 4 years of high school, so Jerad, feel free to shout from the rooftops.

  5. Kyle says:

    You can shout the $10,000 over 4 years from the rooftops all you want, but all you’ll do is confuse people. Shouting is a poor way of delivering accurate information, and most of the people you reach won’t realize that $10,000 in deductions at the state level, assuming the top marginal tax rate (7.75%), comes to a whopping $775 over 4 years, and it’s only really that high for the people at the top rate who itemized deductions were already higher than the standard deduction.

    Or is the issue that shouting “up to $193.75 a year!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it?

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