Assembly speaker wants to focus on taxes, schools; Dems preparing to serve in minority again

Written by Adam Fox, WJFW Newswatch 12


RHINELANDER - Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) wants to start the January session with tax cuts, school standards and school accountability bills.

Republicans will hold very comfortable majorities in the Assembly and Senate next session. That will again give the party the opportunity to pass legislation by itself without any Democrat support. 

Things didn't significantly change in the Assembly. Republicans will get at least 61 seats in the 99 seat chamber. Republicans could get two more seats after a pair of recounts, including a recount in the 85th Assembly district that covers parts of Marathon County.

However, Republicans made a huge gain in the State Senate. Republicans held a one seat advantage last session. They should now hold a 19 to 14 seat advantage over Democrats. 

Rep Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) says the leadership's agenda looks like things they weren't able to finish last session. 

"This is stuff that we are focused on and stuff that we believe, through the last election cycle, obviously the people in the state of Wisconsin approve of what we are headed towards," Swearingen said.

Some voters also approved of raising minimum wage and taking federal money to expand health coverage under BadgerCare. Democrats would like to push both of those issues. 

Nineteen counties asked voters whether the state should accept the federal money. Majorities in all of those counties said yes. Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) believes Republicans should act on those issues.

"They need to look at, despite the fact that they may have had electoral gains, their constituents and the people who voted for them both want two very important things," Shankland said. 

That looks unlikely now that the Republicans have strengthened their position in the Senate and Assembly. 

Legislators will still look at other issues. That includes the coming transportation budget deficit.

"I'm anxious to see what fixes come down the pipe. I haven't heard anything solid to plug that $680 million hole, so that is a big concern and all of that ties into the budget," Swearingen said.

Swearingen, who headed the Rural School Task Force last year, and Shankland both want to address issues with rural school funding. Both representatives serve rural districts. Swearingen says he has been in touch with Vos.

"We've been meeting quite regularly the last six weeks or so, and so we are on the same page in terms of getting some relief to these rural schools, and it all boils down to the budget," Swearingen said.

Democrats also want to address rural school issues. However, they don't want to see the state funded voucher program grow. Shankland believes both parties can act together to help rural schools.

"They need to listen and they need to understand their concerns, and they need to act on our rural schools. We need more transportation aid, we need more categorical aid and we need a fair funding formula," Shankland said.

Republicans don't need any help from Democrats over the next two years if they want to pass legislation. Democrats will only have the ability to try and slow down legislation they don't agree with. Shankland says there are things Democrats won't stand for.

"If they [Republicans] plan on privatizing our public education by increasing investments in vouchers, we will stand against it," Shankland said. "We will defend our public schools."

Shankland believes both parties can work together and form legislation for topics like workforce development.

Legislators will begin their 2015 Session on January 5th.