Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tells WisPolitics.com he’s not getting ahead of his caucus in the discussion over possible revenue uppers for transportation in the next budget, saying his members have made clear one of their top priorities is shoring up the fund.
Vos, R-Rochester, has aggressively pushed for keeping revenue increases, including a possible gas tax hike, on the table as lawmakers and the guv look to the next budget. But Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly said he will veto any budget that raises the gas tax or registration fees without a corresponding tax cut somewhere else.
With Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, siding with the guv and saying it is unlikely a gas tax hike would pass his house, some have questioned if Vos was moving too aggressively on revenue uppers for his caucus.
But Vos said he asked the caucus this summer to address its priorities; one of the top three was addressing transportation funding long-term. He insisted he is not specifically calling for a gas tax hike, though he wants to keep all options on the table.
“I think we have many more people who want to focus on a solution than the people who say no way in hell,” Vos said in the interview.
Budget watchers are looking to the Joint Finance Committee as a possible site for the showdown over transportation revenues coming to a head.
Vos confirmed Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, has been put in charge of transportation for the Assembly GOP JFC team. The accountant has built his reputation in the Capitol largely by working on tax packages, but now will be charged with finding a path forward on transportation.
Some have interpreted the move as an effort to put pressure on Kooyenga if a gas tax vote came before Finance. If Kooyenga couldn’t find a way to keep priority projects on track with current revenues, the thinking goes, it could put him in a difficult spot on a gas tax vote.
Vos said I-94 east-west is important to Kooyenga’s suburban Milwaukee district and he offers a fresh look at the issue. The issue was Co-chair John Nygren’s responsibility in this budget; Nygren’s office said other responsibilities have not been divided among members.
Vos said any talk of a gas tax hike is a “way down the road.”
“I think that Dale is incredibly smart,” Vos said. “I think he is a prime example of somebody who will look at the first three very seriously: Where are there efficiencies? Do we need all these projects? Are there ways we can reduce the costs? Are there offsetting taxes that we can reduce in conjunction before we raise another one? So I think he has a really unique set of talents that can hopefully help us find a consensus.”
Kooyenga said he didn’t want to discuss the specifics of his approach to the transportation package. But he pointed to his past work looking at UW reserves and changing the tax code as examples of his details-oriented approach to issues. He said a main goal is changing the current trajectory for the ratio of debt payments to collections in the transportation fund while addressing an aging infrastructure.
“I think I’ve really been someone who’s dove into the details and done a considerable amount of reading, a considerable amount of crunching the numbers and come up with solutions,” Kooyenga said.
Vos: Jacque ‘not trustworthy’
Vos also broke his silence on his decision to pull Rep. Andre Jacque’s chairmanship, saying the De Pere Republican “is not trustworthy.”
Jacque clashed with Vos this session when Jacque held a hearing and vote in his Labor Committee on legislation to repeal the prevailing wage even as the speaker said he didn’t have the votes in his caucus to pass the legislation. Jacque said earlier this month the speaker’s decision to pull him as a committee chair was a “badge of honor” for his fights on behalf of the anti-abortion movement and taxpayers.
Vos said he kept quiet following Jacque’s public comments on losing his gavel. But he said the majority of the his members knows the move was not about the prevailing wage issue, but “doing what’s right for our entire caucus and not pursuing your own agenda, and that’s what he chose to do.”
Vos would not say whether he did not trust Jacque as chair or more broadly as a member of the caucus.
“That’s all I’m going to say,” Vos said. “He’s not trustworthy in my mind.”
Jacque wrote in an email he was disappointed by Vos’ comments and that he’s always been straightforward with his colleagues and constituents.
“I’m proud of my actions and my legislative track record,” Jacque said. “I’m certainly not going to stop working to advance conservative principles, and am honored to have earned the trust of my colleagues and constituents in doing so.”
Vos’ move with Jacque, his high-profile clash with the guv over revenue uppers for transportation and the drama over which of his Finance Committee members would return next session have led to some grumbling in the caucus of Vos’ leadership style.
Vos acknowledged some might chafe at his actions, but he said he’s more open than past speakers. That includes, he said, a larger leadership table, more frequent meetings with members and being open to suggestions from his fellow Assembly Republicans.
“People have the right to criticize me,” Vos said. “I have big shoulders. But I also want to at the same time say I try not to criticize back. If you’ll notice, when all those things came out about accusing me of all those things, I just sat quietly because I know why I did it. If the caucus doesn’t like it, they can vote me out of as speaker, and that’s just the process.”