SMALLER IS BETTER: Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, is hoping the new Legislature will pass several bills during the upcoming session that promote free market ideas and smaller government.
By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is optimistic state lawmakers will consider several bills promoting smaller government and free market ideas in the next legislative session.
After all, come January, the state Legislature will have the largest GOP majority in decades.
But with that political advantage comes great responsibility and pressure.
Vos is fully aware it’s time to put up or shut up when pushing the state GOP’s top priorities, which include improving Wisconsin’s business climate, lowering taxes, expanding the school choice program, limiting government red tape and reforming the Government Accountability Board and John Doe law.
“I think the next two to four years are really going to allow us an opportunity to really change how government in Wisconsin functions,” Vos told Wisconsin Reporter in an interview from his office this week. “My hope is that we have the courage and that we’ll have the ability to get it done. I think we will, but it’s going to mean making hard decisions. But the nice part is, Wisconsin Republicans have shown they’ll do that.”
As far as Nick Novak is concerned, the Legislature needs to continue passing tax-saving reforms like Act 10, Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature law prohibiting the forced unionization of most public-sector employees.
Novak, communications director for the MacIver Institute, a free market think tank based in Madison, praised state lawmakers for saving taxpayers almost $2 billion in recent years through several tax cuts. But he says more can always be done.
In terms of its overall business tax climate, the Tax Foundation puts Wisconsin as 43rd best in the country.
“It would really be a bad idea for us to even ponder higher levels of taxation,” said Wisconsin Policy Research Institute President Mike Nichols.
To help improve its financial footing, State Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, will push for more tax relief opportunities for both expanding and new industries.
Kleefisch is looking to propose something similar to an Assembly bill he drafted in the last legislative session that exempts commercial radio and television stations from paying sales taxes on digital broadcasting equipment.
Kleefisch said the state needs to think outside of the box and implement incentive programs like Start-Up NY to help lure companies to Wisconsin.
“We need to compete for those jobs,” Kleefisch told Wisconsin Reporter. “We need to make it more attractive to come to Wisconsin than anywhere else … Government does not create jobs. However, government can get out of the way of businesses trying to create jobs.”
Vos said decreasing taxes for both residents and companies will only go so far. Wisconsin lawmakers must also focus on minimizing the size of government.
“Do we need all the agencies we have?” Vos asked. “Are there ways to make local governments more efficient working together? Are there things that we can do to help reduce unnecessary regulations on the private sector? Are there things that agencies do that they don’t do well that could be outsourced or even eliminated?”
Novak encourages the state to slash its spending by employing a zero-based budgeting model in which all expenses must be justified for each new period.
“We must work as a Legislature to do the important work of actually reducing government, not just restricting its growth,” said state Rep. David Craig, R-Big Bend.
Kleefisch told Wisconsin Reporter state lawmakers should use a high level of scrutiny when reviewing the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s proposed budget for 2015-17 that calls for $750 million in new taxes and fees.
CHANGES: Republican State Rep. David Craig hopes to make some major changes to WIsconsin’s John Doe law in the upcoming legislative session.
“There’s no reason we can’t find money to adequately fund our roads without raising taxes,” Kleefisch said. “In a $50 billion-plus budget, there has to be somewhere to find money for roads since they are a priority.”
For Craig, cutting taxes will not be the only major discussion in the next legislative session.
Craig wants to see major reforms to the John Doe law, which some conservatives say has been used to unlawfully silence Republicans and disrupt the Walker campaign. He also hopes to establish safeguards that assist in preventing law enforcement and the public from using technology to infringe upon a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“My agenda first and foremost, as chairman of the Committee on Financial Institutions, is to ensure we have free market policies in place to enhance the banking and securities economy in Wisconsin,” Craig said. “Additionally, I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance laws that support our Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures using unchecked laws like our current John Doe statute, as well as our lack of protections against intrusive use of technology.”
Vos also foresees major changes to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which was conceived as a nonpartisan agency.
Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, filed a lawsuit against the GAB in September, claiming the state entity designed the ballot for the November election to favor Democrats.
The GAB also contracted a pair of special investigators in the two John Doe probes targeting Walker and other conservatives.
“I think I’ve been pretty clear in saying (the GAB) needs to be an organization that does not put its thumb on the scale, and I don’t think people have the respect that they need to have for that organization today,” Vos said.
Vos also proposes major reforms to state campaign finance laws deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We want to make sure there is no evidence or appearance of corruption, but at the same point have the First Amendment be preeminent in saying that political speech is the most important speech in our country,” Vos told Wisconsin Reporter.
Vos also finds it critical to reduce the size of government to prevent citizens from becoming too reliant on taxpayer-funded assistance. Vos envisions residents receiving unemployment benefits to have to sign up with a temporary staffing agency. He also believes food stamp recipients should have to pass drug tests.
“I hope that we’ll be able to stick with our small government principles, which say that government should be helpful, but in the smallest way possible and for the shortest time that’s possible,” Vos said.