Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hoped a larger Republican majority in his state's Legislature would lead to the quick and smooth passage of a budget, a perfect kickoff to his all-but-announced campaign for president.
Instead, the spending plan landed on his desk a week late, after months of intraparty wrangling, bearing the most 'no' votes his budgets have ever received from GOP lawmakers, who derided his original $73 billion spending plan as "crap." It passed the Assembly with only two votes to spare, even after weeks of toning down many of Walker’s proposals and getting rid of some.
However, anti-labor proposals that originated with the Koch-brothers backed American Legislative Exchange Council and measures to boost the fossil-fuel industry by scaling back environmental protections and conservation efforts, were left in tact by GOP lawmakers.
Republicans who voted against the budget cited a variety of concerns with the far-reaching legislation that lays out Walker's priorities for state funding over the next two years. They said it didn't spend enough on K-12 schools, would borrow too much for road construction and they objected to repealing a law setting minimum salaries for construction workers on local government projects. Their lukewarm reception isn't the kind of momentum Walker's had hoped for heading into the launch of his presidential bid Monday.
Walker will campaign on the facts that the budget includes no sales or income tax increases and property taxes are in line to be lower in 2016 than they were when Walker took office in 2011. He's also expanding the private school voucher program, a favorite with conservatives, and continuing a tuition freeze at the University of Wisconsin System.
But bragging rights for those right-wing issues came at the expense of huge disappointments for his fellow Republicans and, according to Democrats, a giant step backward for the state and its economic future.
Wary lawmakers who didn’t want to cede control jettisoned his much-discussed restructuring of the university system. Deep budget cuts to K-12 schools and the UW System were scaled back, although dramatic cuts remain. The Legislature rejected his call to cut funding for the popular SeniorCare prescription drug program and idea to borrow $220 million to pay for a new Milwaukee Bucks stadium.
Most embarrassingly, a last-minute provision gutting the state's open records law was quickly stripped following loud bipartisan outcry. Walker refused to acknowledge his part in the proposal, but was identified as a participant by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
Walker's not used to getting so much blow-back from his own party, especially on the budget. In 2011, not a single Republican voted against it. Two years later, one moderate Republican senator, Dale Schultz, and two GOP Assembly members turned it down.
But this year, the flood gates opened, in part because Republicans are holding the party's largest majority since 1957 in the Assembly, up by four seats from two years ago. The majority in the Senate grew by one.
One Republican senator, Rob Cowles, joined Democrats in voting against the budget, saying it contained too many policy items that weren't spending-related.
Assembly Republicans were unusually critical of Walker during the months of budget talks, with freshman Rep. Rob Brooks saying in May that, "We may have a crap budget, but we're going to make it better."
In the end, 11 voted against the plan Wednesday, meaning it passed the chamber with just two votes to spare 52-46. Brooks was not among them. During debate Wednesday night, he said the Assembly had improved it. "Now, I can go back to my constituents ... and say, it's not a crap budget," Brooks said.
But there were still signs of discontent.
"I personally think the governor's budget as delivered was a piece of crap. Not to mince any words, OK?" Republican Rep. Tom Weatherston said candidly during debate. Still, he voted for the budget.
Those who didn't were silent during debate, though several of the 11 Republicans who voted against it explained themselves later in statements.
Rep. James Edming objected to a late addition that largely repeals the prevailing wage law, which sets minimum salaries for construction workers on government projects. Rep. Scott Krug said the budget "falls short" in school funding, and Rep. Keith Ripp didn't think the budget did enough to solve the state's transportation funding problems.
Walker hasn't spoken since the budget passed early Thursday. He's expected to sign it and issue vetoes before Monday's event in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha. From there, Walker has campaign stops slated in four early primary states, ending with a weekend blitz in neighboring Iowa.
Louis Weisberg contributed to this story.