Republican leadership, including now-Speaker Robin Vos (R) just last year rejected a bill that earmarks taxpayer money for international travel and marketing. Last week, Vos led a majority of Republicans to join with Democrat lawmakers in approving a slightly modified version of the earmark. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D) and Rep. Jeff Stone (R), allocates $1 million in taxpayer money for use by a trade association or the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for websites, brochures, and international travel.
How Republicans went from opposing the earmark last session to supporting its rapid passage this session is not completely clear. Rep. Steve Nass (R), an opponent of the spending, charges that it is the result of a deal struck between Speaker Vos and his counterparts in the Democratic Caucus.
Vos has signaled that he wants is legacy as speaker to be one of bipartisanship. With an eye to history, Vos issued a press release in January touting his own “unprecedented move” in appointing two Democrats to co-chair, with Republican lawmakers, two standing Assembly committees. According to the Vos release, it has been 20 years since the Assembly had bipartisan co-chairs of a committee.
The bipartisan deal making by Vos and his team appears to extend beyond appointing two Democrat co-chairs. The version of the Jorgensen-Stone earmark that cleared the Assembly totals $1 million. A previous version of the bill, AB 9, which was soundly defeated in 2012, had proposed spending close to $2.6 million on the project. When Rep. Nass inquired about the change in spending, $2.6 million in the first proposal and $1 million in the version the Assembly just passed, he was told the change had been made at the request of Assembly Republican leadership.
In 2012, Republicans twice voted to reject the earmark proposed by Jorgensen. Vos voted against the earmark once, and was either absent or abstaining during the other procedural vote.
When asked if Republicans had devised a way to measure the effectiveness of the spending, a spokesperson for Speaker Vos’ office would only say that the bill was passed in a bipartisan manner.
On Monday, Vos spoke at an event in Milwaukee where he spoke of his opposition to government taking money and resources from some and giving it to others. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report on the event, Vos declared:
“The concern I always have is for many times, (the) liberals’ only solution is to figure out a way for government to take from some and give to others. I prefer the private sector to work.”
That would seem to contradict what Rep. Jeff Stone (R) said about the earmark on Monday. Talking to Media Trackers, Stone said it was his opinion that as long as government is giving money away, some of it might as well be directed towards people who would otherwise not get it.
The only things that really changed between the vote that Vos and Republicans cast against the earmark last year, and suddenly passing it this year, is the price tag that decreased from $2.6 million to $1 million, and the fact that Vos is now a Speaker in search of a bipartisan legacy.