Senate budget calls for new borrowing for roads
By TODD RICHMOND
Jul. 18, 2017
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Senate's top Republicans took the unusual step Tuesday of introducing their own state budget proposal, challenging their Assembly counterparts to get on board with the new spending plan and end a monthlong standoff over road funding.
The Senate proposal contains all the provisions the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee has approved over the last few months as it revised Gov. Scott Walker's budget. But it also calls for more borrowing for roads — an idea Assembly Republicans have repeatedly rejected — as well as more money for schools and tax changes.
It's unclear where things go from here. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters during a news conference Tuesday that he doesn't have the votes right now to pass the Senate plan. The document is designed more to send a message to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos about the Senate's position, he said.
""My point is to try to get the process back on track," Fitzgerald said. "This clearly puts it back in the Assembly's court to develop what their position is."
Vos emerged from a meeting with Fitzgerald and Walker last week saying there's no way either of them will accept a gas tax or registration fee increase. He said then that the only option was to hold the transportation budget flat. Vos planned to meet with his members Tuesday afternoon.
He and other top Republicans in the Assembly issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon saying they would review the plan. They said they agree with most of it but didn't say specifically which parts. Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said in a separate email that Assembly Republicans still believe if there's new borrowing for roads the state must find a way to pay for it.
The Senate's move marks a major departure from the normal budget process. Traditionally, the governor introduces an executive budget, the finance committee revises it and the Senate and Assembly vote on the final plan before sending it back to the governor for his signature.
The finance committee's work on this budget stopped in mid-June, however, after Republicans started quarreling over how to plug a $1 billion shortfall in the transportation budget.
Walker's budget called for borrowing an additional $500 million and delaying major projects. Assembly Republicans oppose any new borrowing; they want to generate more revenue and have suggested raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees. Senate Republicans have called for more borrowing, saying Walker will never approve a tax or fee increase.
State law requires the budget to be completed by July 1, although that's mostly a symbolic deadline; spending continues at current levels until a new budget is adopted.
The Senate budget proposal calls for $712 million in borrowing to cover road work, including $350 million in borrowing backed by general tax dollars. It eliminates 200 positions within the state Department of Transportation and erases the prevailing wage law on state public works and highway projects. The law creates a minimum wage for workers on such projects.
The new spending plan retains Walker's proposal to gives public schools an additional $650 million over the next two years. It also would allow more families to receive state vouchers for private school tuition by raising income limits for eligibility.
The document goes on to eliminate Walker's $203.4 million income tax cut, deletes his plan for a sales tax holiday on school supplies and repeals the personal property tax. That's a tax local governments impose on businesses' equipment and furniture. The Senate would give local governments $240 million to offset the lost revenue.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said in an email that the governor welcomes the Senate budget because it aligns closely to his positions on road and school funding and tax relief.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, a La Crosse Democrat, issued a statement calling the Senate budget "dead on arrival."
"Working families," she said, "are tired of the Republican dysfunction that is paralyzing our government from the federal level down to the state."
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1