Following a tumultuous year in which he personally beat a recall effort and saw his party lose its majority in the state Senate in the recalls, only to regain the control back once again in the November election, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he and his party are ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work with Gov. Scott Walker in the next legislative session.
After briefly losing control of the Senate over the summer, Republicans are once again in control of both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s office.
Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the Republican caucus’ first priority for the next session, after the new members are sworn in in January 2013, will be working on the next biennial budget for the state.
“We want to make sure this next budget is balanced and no debt is being passed into the future,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to dominate the first couple of months in the new session. The governor will introduce the budget sometime in the middle of February to the Legislature ... then the Finance Committee will dissect the governor’s budget, and then it is my job to the get the votes along with the new speaker, Rep. Robin Vos.”
Another priority for the Legislature, Fitzgerald said, will be figuring out the best way to use a revenue surplus. He said legislators will have several options for what they want to do with the revenue, including income tax cuts.
“It will give the Legislature some flexibility that otherwise wouldn’t exist,” Fitzgerald said. “One of the things that has been discussed so far has been some kind of income tax cut, probably not across the board, but more targeted. Again we won’t know until we get the governor’s budget next year.”
Fitzgerald added the state government has to be cautious with any excess revenue because legislators do not have enough information on how Medicare and Medicaid costs will grow with an aging population and with other changes looming in the health care field.
Fitzgerald said economic development and job creation will be on the forefront of many of the initiatives next session. He added he is looking at models other states are using to help stimulate their economies.
“Texas is reducing the bureaucracy and cutting the red tape for businesses and the government in North Carolina is using very specific programs to stimulate the economy,” Fitzgerald said. “ Those are two different ends of the spectrum, I like to think we are going to end up in the middle.”
Fitzgerald said he believes the newly created Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will play a larger role in stimulating the economy moving forward.
“The WEDC was still in a first creation mode last year. There have been a few growing pains with it, but I’m optimistic ... we are going to see some ideas that have originated from it,” Fitzgerald said.
Other items on the agenda, Fitzgerald said, include mining and venture capital bills, both of which were not passed last session.
Fitzgerald said a bill rarely comes back in the exact form that it was presented in the past, but he said the current mining statutes in the state are not acceptable.
“We need to revisit it. How that is done is something that we are probably going to look for some broader coalition support,” Fitzgerald said. “There was so much focus on one specific type of bill ... I’m hopeful that we can do this right and get it right so this industry feels like it’s once again welcome.”
Fitzgerald also said he is looking forward to moving past the recalls and protests at the Capitol of the previous session.
“I’m very much looking forward to getting back to work and reaching out to the other side of the aisle and get some semblance of the way we have worked in the past,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m hopeful we can move in that direction. There is a lot that we did in a bipartisan fashion, people are always surprised to hear 90 percent of the bills from last session passed on a voice vote or with some kind of bipartisan support.”