By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Move over liberals. There seems to be enough discontent with Gov. Scott Walker’s budget to go around.
At least some Republicans hate the 2013-15 budget, too.
In the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, the $70 billion, two-year budget signed by Walker over the weekend is another example of big government getting bigger.
Todd Welch, state coordinator for Campaign for Liberty, a 501(c)(4) organization, and a member of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, ran off a laundry list of complaints with the Republican-crafted budget.
“This budget grows government spending $2 billion. It includes DNA collection at arrest — a policy item that shouldn’t even be in the budget. It exempts a balanced budget requirement, which Republicans implemented two years ago. It adds government employees,” Welch said in a phone interview Monday.
“If you could explain to me how it’s a conservative budget, I’d be all ears,” he said.
Welch’s perspective is different from the rhetoric by party leadership flying around the statehouse.
“We’ve followed through on our promise to the taxpayer,” Vos said in a statement after the Assembly passed the budget last month.
The budget, however, increases overall spending $4 billion, or 6.2 percent, from the 2011-13 state budget, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. That includes a 1.5 percent jump in general fund spending next year, an increase of more than $200 million, and a 3.4 percent increase, or $500 million more the following year.
“The spending increases under the early (former Democratic Gov. Jim) Doyle budgets and the latest Walker budget aren’t radically dissimilar,” said Todd Berry, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. “The increases are 3 or a little more than 3 percent per year.”
However, Doyle’s more than $2 billion in tax hikes are still fodder for Republicans debating in the Legislature or pounding the pavement on the campaign trail. The near $1 billion in tax cuts in the Republican-led budget offer a stark contrast.
Still, libertarians look at spending as a better indicator of the size of government than the amount of tax cuts. Walker’s budget, for example, cuts taxes at the same time it increases borrowing. It also returns a structural deficit to the state’s books.
Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, doesn’t label himself as a tea party or libertarian Republican, but he voted against the budget, in part due to the projected $545 million structural deficit. He also cited increased borrowing for his ‘no’ vote.
“As stewards of taxpayer dollars, I believe state government needs to tighten its belt rather than put unnecessary purchases on the state’s credit card,” the CPA said in a statement after his budget vote.
Welch, who considers himself a libertarian-conservative in the vein of a Rand Paul or Mike Lee, and a number of other tea party types and libertarians, also decry a loss of constitutional protections embedded in Walker’s budget.
Leaders of more than 40 tea party groups sent a letter to Republican legislators asking for a removal of the DNA-at-arrest provision before the Assembly passed the budget. Several county-level members of the Republican Party urged Walker to veto the measure. The provision remained in the budget.
“I’m not going away from the Republican Party,” Welch said,” but I wouldn’t be opposed to someone running against (Walker) in a Republican primary.”
Mark Graul, GOP strategist and founder of Arena Strategy Group, a Wisconsin public affairs group, said that would be a “primary in lunacy.”
“I don’t understand how anyone on the conservative side of the aisle could be unhappy about $1 billion in tax relief, education reform and entitlement reform. I think it’s a minority of a minority of a minority,” he said.
Graul, echoing some GOP lawmakers who begrudgingly voted for the budget, said such a large document never gives everybody 100 percent of what they want, but that’s part of the democratic process of compromise.
He said plenty of law-and-order type conservatives applaud expanded DNA provision, pointing out the Supreme Court agrees that it passes constitutional muster.
Graul reminds naysayers the tax relief in this budget could not have happened without Walker’s leadership enacting structural reform in Act 10 and the choices made to fill a $3.6 billion hole in the previous budget.
“There’s no question this is a good budget to run on next fall,” he said.
Republicans, though, might have some company on the ballot, on what’s typically considered the right.
“There’s a real serious momentum of people who are ready to look outside the two-party system,” said Bob Burke, chairman of the Libertarian Party Pierce St. Croix. “I think at the very least we’ll mess up the election in ways they don’t see coming.”
Libertarians haven’t fared well in recent Wisconsin statewide elections. Ed Thompson, former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s brother, took 11 percent of the vote in the 2002 gubernatorial election — the election in which Doyle beat incumbent Republican Gov. Scott McCallum.
Burke says his party’s focus on civil liberties and coalition-building policies — such as ending the war on drugs — could help disrupt the 2014 elections, and libertarians could possibly pick up a seat or two. Political observers say that optimism may be a stretch.
Burke, who voted for Walker for governor twice, including in last year’s recall election, said he’s not sure he’ll vote for him a third time.
“We can clap our hands and say they do all these great things, but in essence the problem is it’s still too difficult to do business in Wisconsin,” he said. “The GOP has voted like Democrats, and we’re willing to let them back themselves into the wall.”
Welch, too, said he’s not yet sure if he’ll cast a vote for Walker a third time. He said he knows plenty of other libertarian and tea party types who say the same thing, even though they may be a small minority of the party.
“I’m not saying there weren’t conservative things in there, but overall I wouldn’t call it a conservative budget. A conservative is supposed to decrease the size of government,” Welch said.
Contact Ekvall at firstname.lastname@example.org