Republican Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos has talked about taxes since he was first elected to the Assembly in 2004. Last year, Vos was part of a legislative panel that took a look at the state’s tax system but the group never came up with a comprehensive tax reform plan. Now, Vos is sending mixed messages that raise questions about his fidelity and commitment to tax reform and tax cuts.
When asked, Vos staffers were unable to identify any instance of Vos drafting or introducing comprehensive tax reform and tax cut plans since he first took office in 2005.
Now that State Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R), who is in his second term in the Assembly, has put forward a bold and sweeping plan to overhaul streamline the Wisconsin income tax code and give taxpayers a $752 million tax cut, Vos has become noticeably non-committal about the package. Absent from the press conference where the reform plan was announced, Vos was later asked about his commitment to such a meaningful tax cut. He refused to say he would work to pass the cut, and claimed that he had not had time to discuss the proposal with his caucus.
But that would be his own fault. As Speaker, Vos has the power to shepherd legislation through the Assembly while securing the support of many Republican members.
So far this session, when a special interest deal was on the line Vos has succeeded in securing legislative favors. A trade group was able to get a $1 million earmark in a stand-alone bill thanks to a desire by the Speaker to look bi-partisan. Some dentists in Wisconsin were able to use the power of the legislature to rewrite private contracts. Their bill handily passed the Assembly and campaign finance records show that Vos has taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the political conduit of the Wisconsin Dental Association.
In a radio interview late last week, Vos indicated he wanted to be able to take credit for the Kooyenga tax plan while also distance himself from the responsibility of giving it an up or down vote. “He [Kooyenga] wrote the plan himself,” Vos said in an apparent attempt to remove pressure from conservative talk show hosts questioning his commitment to tax reform.
Indications are now that a watered down version of Kooyenga’s plan will pass, and that Vos will not bring himself to give an up or down vote on the bigger, bolder version of the tax cut.