Senate leader on budget deal: ‘I don’t know where we’re at’

AP and WiG report

Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t any closer to reaching a deal on a new state budget, with no agreements yet on how to pay for transportation projects or whether to back a financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said yesterday.

“I don’t know where we’re at,” Fitzgerald said before the Senate met to consider a bill that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Democrats, who condemned the bill for the suffering it will cause women, called it an attempt to distract voters from the GOP’s floundering budget process.

Fitzgerald said there’s no agreement yet on whether to repeal or scale back the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires workers on certain public projects to be paid a wage based on a complex formula that critics say inflates their pay because of an over-reliance on union salaries. Backers of the law warn that overturning it will cause a free-fall in construction wages and quality.

Republican leaders have been trying to reach a deal with GOP Gov. Scott Walker on several unresolved issues in the two-year state budget. The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee has not met since May 29 to finish its work, and no meetings are scheduled.

The current budget runs through the end of June, but state government will continue operating into July under terms of the old budget if Walker has not signed a new one by then. Walker, who had urged lawmakers to get the budget done far ahead of July, has said he will not announce whether he’ll run for president until after he signs the budget.

“The governor gave us a very complicated budget,” said Republican Sen. Rob Cowles, of Allouez. “And complicated budgets don’t get done quickly.”

One of the biggest unresolved issues is how to pay for ongoing transportation projects, including the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee and the expansion of Interstate 39/90 and I-94. Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion over two years and has refused to consider tax or fee increases.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is among some Republicans who support increasing vehicle registration fee hikes in order to lessen the amount of borrowing. But he said yeterday that it is no longer an option, given Walker’s opposition. Instead, Vos said he supports cutting borrowing for roads by at least $800 million, but no exact figure has been settled on.

“We’d like to have a significant reduction,” Vos said at a news conference.

Vos, in a meeting last week with Walker and Fitzgerald, floated the possibility of doing no borrowing — a move that would delay road and bridge work all across the state. Walker said Friday he would agree to that, but it wouldn’t be his preference.

It is unknown how much of the proposed construction is necessary. A federal court recently ruled against U.S. dollars going toward a proposed highway-widening project approved by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The court said the project was based on false data, and land-use advocates have performed studies showing that most of the state’s road-building projects are unneeded.

But Fitzgerald said yesterday that doing no borrowing was unrealistic.

“I think a mix is where we end up, I just don’t know where that ends up,” Fitzgerald said.

Part of the discussion is how much flexibility to give WisDOT in deciding which projects would be affected by a funding reduction, he said.

Both Fitzgerald and Vos have said they don’t have enough votes to repeal the prevailing wage, and instead they’re looking at making restrictions. State Sen. Duey Stroebel, a Republican from Cedarburg, said last week that he wouldn’t vote for the budget unless it repeals the prevailing wage for local units of government.

“The caucus is really all over the place,” Fitzgerald said on prevailing wage. “I know they would like to coalesce around something, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Fitzgerald said senators have been talking about the Milwaukee Bucks arena financing deal — which relies on $250 million from taxpayers — and no decision has been made on whether to consider it outside of the budget, a move that could delay its passage.

Vos said Walker was personally calling on lawmakers to push them to support the Bucks deal.