Budget talks in Madison remain stalled, largely because of disagreements over how to fix a $1 billion deficit in the transportation budget. So Senate leaders put forth a plan Tuesday that they say will move them beyond the impasse. They say it's now up to the Assembly to act. Yet the Senate plan calls for continued borrowing to pay for roads, which has been one of the main holdups in negotiations.
Senate Republicans say the version of the budget they introduced Tuesday makes their priorities clear.
“There’s still a huge investment in K12.”
Scott Fitzgerald is the Senate majority leader.
“We still have more money going for local roads, it keeps the three major southeastern Wisconsin highway projects on track, I 94 and the Zoo, the third phase of the Zoo and the east west, repeals prevailing wage, includes a 50 state study for best practices related to DOT,” Fitzgerald says.
Fitzgerald says Senate lawmakers want to borrow $712 million over the next two years to pay for roads. The transportation fund faces a $1 billion deficit and lawmakers haven’t been able to agree on new or increased revenue sources such as a higher gas tax or tolls.
“We’re here today saying listen, I don’t know what else to caucus on. I’m not sure what else the Senate can come together and make decisions on. We’ve done that and we’ve been doing that all along. So if it simply comes down to one item, which would be revenue related to transportation, then tell us what you think you need and I’ll try to take that back to the Senate caucus and see if it’s palatable,” Fitzgerald says.
While the Senate has put forth a plan, Fitzgerald admits that he doesn’t know if he has the votes.
“Quite honestly, in the 11 years that I’ve been leader, I’ve never worked on a budget where I’ve been trying to get a tax increase either. So I mean we’re in new territory here,” Fitzgerald says.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not return calls Tuesday, seeking comment on the Senate proposal. But he did release a statement saying Republicans agree on most things and that where there is not agreement, they are willing to work to get there. Yet last week, Vos made it clear that the Assembly would not support any borrowing for roads unless there was a new tax or fee to pay for it. In comments like this one late last month, Vos has said that continuing to borrow for roads without increasing revenue only makes the situation worse:
"I'm willing to stay here, you know, the summer if we have to. It's not my preference. But my job is to get the right things done, not in a timely fashion, but to get it done in the right way."
Democrats, meanwhile, are blasting Republicans for not being able to come together. Sen. Jon Erpenbach shared his frustrations Tuesday.
“What we are hung up on is what probably we should have started with in the first place, and that’s transportation and education. For the democrats, it’s beyond belief that we are spending more money than ever before in a state budget yet here we are. And the Republican Senate position is to borrow more money in order to pay for tax cuts that they want, the Assembly position is to raise revenue and the governor seems to be MIA right now,” Erpenbach says.
Erpenbach says Gov. Walker should have provided more leadership in the budget process.
“Schools want to know what’s going on with their funding, we have issues with corrections, we have issues with veterans, and all that funding is hung up right now because we don’t have a state budget. This is the fault of the governor. He’s known this has been coming for two years,” Erpenbach says.
Erpenbach points out that during the last budget cycle Assembly Republicans agreed to increase borrowing for roads but said it would be the last time unless new revenue was found to help cover the costs.