Gov. Walker: “I will veto the entire budget if it includes an increase in property taxes”
MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker, in another sign of escalating tension with fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, vowed Monday, May 22nd to take the unprecedented step of vetoing the entire $76 billion state budget if it raises property taxes on homeowners.
Walker issued the unusual warning publicly on Twitter in one of a series of messages defending his budget priorities. Republicans are considering breaking with Walker in several key areas on the budget, including property taxes, as they continue to debate changes to his two-year spending plan.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was taken aback by the threat, which he said Walker has never made directly to lawmakers and that Vos only learned of by seeing the tweet.
“I don’t know why he wouldn’t call us instead of acting like Donald Trump and tweeting at us,” Vos said in a telephone interview.
Wisconsin’s governor has broad power to veto individual items from the budget, making it unnecessary for them to reject the entire spending plan, which funds K-12 schools, prisons, Medicaid, the University of Wisconsin and all other parts of state government.
No governor has ever vetoed the entire state budget since the spending plan has passed as an omnibus single bill starting in 1931, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.
“The only reason for a complete veto would be more for political optics or for related rhetorical or symbolic reasons,” said Todd Berry, director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
Walker has been negotiating privately with lawmakers but in recent weeks he’s been more aggressive in taking his case public as he prepares to run for a third term next year. He first threatened to veto the entire budget on Friday and repeated it Monday as part of a series of messages.
“Let me be clear, I will veto the entire budget if it includes an increase in property taxes for homeowners,” Walker tweeted.
Republicans have talked most openly about raising the gas tax to help pay for roads. But leaders of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee said last week that not eliminating the state property tax was still being discussed.
Eliminating the state portion of the property tax as Walker wants would reduce taxes statewide over two years by about $180 million. Walker has been touting it as part of his plan to fulfill his promise to keep property taxes on the average-valued home below where they were in 2014.
Under Walker’s budget, property taxes on a roughly $160,000 valued home would decrease $21 over the next two years, based on estimates by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Vos said he supported eliminating the state property tax and suspected the Legislature would go along with Walker, which he said made his tweeted threat all the more perplexing.
“Our goal, too, is to not raise property taxes beyond the level where they are currently,” Vos said.
Walker said on Twitter that Republicans need to stand by their promises to cut taxes.
“I ran on a promise to lower the overall tax burden in WI. So did other Republicans,” Walker tweeted. “We need to keep that pledge.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald — who along with Vos and leaders of the Legislature’s budget committee has been negotiating with Walker on the budget — did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said he wasn’t surprised by the GOP in-fighting.
“I’ve never seen the Republicans more divided,” Barca said.