MADISON — While new Gov. Tony Evers is calling for bipartisanship, leaders in the GOP-controlled state Assembly are fighting over office space and staff.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has said he wanted to staff up with Evers taking over the East Wing, has added seven positions to his office.
He did so by pulling in positions from the chief clerk and sergeant at arms offices.
Vos has used the new positions to hire three former staffers from Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. What’s more, numbers Minority Leader Gordon Hintz obtained from the clerk’s office and shared with WisPolitics.com show Vos also gave his chief of staff a more than 20-percent raise.
Hintz has been critical of Vos over four of his Democratic members sharing two offices this session, compared to two sharing one in 2017-18, even as Republicans lost a seat in the November elections. He also questioned why Vos was hiring more staff on top of that.
But Vos countered his office will still have the same number of positions it did before.
“Now we’re just going to have them more accurately reflect what they’re really doing and who they’re working for,” Vos told WisPolitics.com on Jan. 9.
Of the seven new staff positions, two were housed in the chief clerk’s office last session, even though they were already under Vos’ direction, while the other five were vacant.
The speaker also has a computer specialist who remains in the clerk’s office but works under his direction.
Altogether, it’s 14 staffers, compared to five approved for the minority leader, not counting a computer specialist in the clerk’s office who works under Hintz’s direction.
Vos has used the new positions to hire: former state Rep. Joe Handrick, who served as consultant to Republicans as they redrew legislative lines in 2011; Heather Smith, whose experience includes serving as Walker’s Medicaid director; and Evan Bradtke, who worked as a senior policy adviser.
Smith is classified as an administrative officer, a designation often used for legislative chiefs of staff. That position comes with a maximum salary of $104,316, which is what Smith is being paid, according to the numbers from Hintz’s office. Meanwhile, Vos created a speaker’s chief of staff designation that comes with a maximum salary of $126,720. Vos chief of staff Jenny Toftness is currently at $123,432.
Vos said Toftness’ salary is now more in line with what the governor’s chief of staff makes.
Altogether, Vos’ office payroll is now more than $800,000 even with the two positions left to fill. That works out to an average salary of $73,149.
“The Republican caucus is smaller. Yet they continue to take more offices,” Hintz said. “They have one less member. Yet they have more staff.”
Assembly Republicans came into the session with a 63-36 majority, though the seat of Kenosha Democrat Peter Barca is now vacant after he resigned to join the Evers administration.
Vos also rebuffed concerns he’s consolidating staff in his office to create a shadow caucus in an effort to counterbalance the Evers administration, noting the governor gets more than 250 direct appointments, while Vos is filling five vacant positions.
“I don’t really think that’s an accurate comparison,” he said.
The overall Assembly GOP payroll is $6.8 million with an average salary of $52,434, compared to $2.8 million for Dems with an average of $43,809, according to the Hintz numbers.
Hintz called the office situation an “abuse of power.”
Twice as many Assembly Democrats are currently slated to share Capitol offices in the upcoming session, even though Republicans have one less member than in 2017-18.
Incoming Democratic Reps. Jodi Emerson, of Eau Claire, and Staush Gruszynski, of Green Bay, will be in 15 West. Meanwhile, freshman Milwaukee Democrats Marisabel Cabrera and Kalan Haywood will share 16 West.
But Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos, said Democrats were given alternatives that included putting members in an office now used by the Democratic caucus graphic designer and space formerly known as the speaker’s annex.
Hintz’s office said it didn’t consider it the speaker’s prerogative to offer the graphic designer’s office since it already houses an Assembly Democratic staffer.
“The Assembly Democrats were offered a number of options and had they made use of them, they would not have to have anyone sharing offices,” Beyer said.
The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.