Tag Archives: budget negotiations

Scott Walker says lawmakers who think the budget’s timing is important are ‘delusional’

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said yesterday he still does not have the votes to pass the state budget, and it seems likely that a $500 million financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks stadium will be debated separately instead of as part of the budget, as planned.

Gov. Scott Walker says it makes no difference when the budget passes, and the sense of urgency surrounding budget negotiations shows that lawmakers are “delusional.”

Fitzgerald told 620-WTMJ, Journal Broadcast Group’s conservative talk radio, that he is still working with Republican senators who want to see items “included, eliminated or modified” in the budget. The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee has not met since May 29 and has no meetings scheduled.

After winning re-election in November, Gov. Scott Walker said he wanted the budget to pass sooner than usual, presumably so that he could officially launch his presidential campaign. He touted the early approval of his prior two budgets.

But now, despite holding a stronger majority than ever in the Capitol, Walker’s budget is in a stalemate situation and he poo-poohs the delay, saying that that it really doesn’t matter when the budget passes.

In fact, Walker said there’s a “delusional mindset in the Capitol” — a jab at legislative Republicans and Democrats alike — about any harm being done if the budget does not get passed by the end of the fiscal year (June 30).

“If we go a week or two in July, unlike the federal government we don’t shut down,” Walker said. “Nothing happens.”

Republican leaders said their goal was to pass the budget in the Senate and Assembly by July 1, an aggressive timeline that they’re highly unlikely to meet with so much yet unresolved.

The budget negotiations are particularly tense this year due to a $2.3 billion budget deficit created by Walker’s tax and cash giveaway programs to corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals. The crony giveaways were coupled with Walker’s refusal to accept federal tax dollars for health care, rail transportation, Internet expansion and other projects.

Although Walker said it’s wrong to take federal tax dollars — paid for, in part, by Wisconsin taxpayers — for any of the items above, he’s eager to accept U.S. money for pet highway projects, even though audits have shown the majority of them are unneeded. A federal court recently ruled it would not help the state widen Highway 23 due to inflated traffic projections presented by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for that project.

Road builders are among Wisconsin’s most generous campaign donors, which has complicated the issue even more. Walker refuses to raise fees or taxes to pay for the massive construction projects. Such a move would destroy his presidential campaign. Instead, the governor wants to issue bonds to pay for the road work.

But GOP leaders refuse to raise the money that way, arguing that it merely shifts the cost to future taxpayers — a strategy that Walker became famous for when he served as Milwaukee County Executive.

Still, Republican leaders seem hesitant to delay work on the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee, which remains a sore spot in budget negotiations.

Fitzgerald said Republican senators firmly believed that $800 million in cuts for state highway and transportation projects must not affect the ongoing Zoo Interchange work near Milwaukee. That’s a key difference between Assembly Republicans who want cuts in road funding to be spread evenly throughout the state.

The Zoo Interchange forms the junction of Interstate 94, I-894 and U.S. 45 just west of Milwaukee. The redesign of the interchange began in 2013 and is expected to cost $1.7 billion by the time it’s done in 2018, if it remains on track.

“It’s got to be completed,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not something to mess with. And we’re all going to have egg on our face if the busiest interchange in Wisconsin is hanging there undone for two years. It’s ridiculous.”

The Bucks arena deal is another ongoing source of division in the budget. Fitzgerald said a majority of Senate Republicans want to see the deal removed from the budget and voted on separately. He said that way Democrats from Milwaukee could register their votes in support.

Fitzgerald said one idea that has not been ruled out is placing a surcharge on ticket sales to help pay for the arena. The proposed plan called for $250 million in money from the public and $250 million from current and former Bucks owners.

Elimination of the state’s policy of paying prevailing wages on government construction projects is a third issue holding up budget negotiations. Tea party followers want to get rid of the law, which helps to shore up construction wages in the state as well as construction quality. Democrats and some mainstream Republicans believe the law contributes to maintaining liveable wages in the state.

Fitzgerald said Republicans discussed three alternative plans but have not been able to reach a middle ground. Two Republican senators — Duey Stroebel and Steve Nass — have said they won’t vote for a budget that doesn’t repeal the prevailing wage at least for local projects.

Fitzgerald said he wasn’t frustrated with the status of budget talks, and his goal remains to have all 19 Republicans vote for the $70 billion, two-year spending plan. There are 14 Democrats in the Senate. That means Fitzgerald can only lose two votes to have enough to pass the plan.

Scott Bauer of The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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

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.

News analysis | Scott Walker won’t raise gas taxes, insists on borrowing $1.3 billion for bogus highway projects

Gov. Scott Walker, for the second time in less than a week, said Monday that he won’t agree to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to break a legislative impasse over how to pay for highway projects.

“I’m going to keep my campaign promises,” said Walker, who didn’t specifically promise not to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees, but did say he wouldn’t let the overall tax burden go up in his second term.

Most of the highway projects proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation are actually pork for road builders, who are generous campaign donors. A federal judge recently recently ruled that WisDOT used vastly inflated projections to justify a major widening project on Highway 23, where traffic is way below WisDOT’s figures.

Fleecing taxpayers to keep road builders happy is an ongoing pattern in Wisconsin, said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. He said money for bogus construction projects are the primary reason that local roads in the state are in such disrepair.

When Walker was re-elected to a second term in November, he promised swift action on the budget given a larger Republican majority in the Legislature.

But the process is taking just as long this year as it did in 2013. That year the budget committee finished its work on June 5 and Walker signed it on June 30.

Figuring out how to finance all the unnecessary highway projects is one of the last pieces of the state budget puzzle to fall into place this year. The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee had hoped to finish its work on Friday, but couldn’t get it done. It has yet to set its next meeting date, which was expected to be its last.

Once the budget clears the committee, it heads to the Senate and Assembly — both controlled by Republicans — for votes later this month. Walker has said he won’t announce a presidential run until after he signs the budget into law.

Republicans lawmakers are balking at Walker’s proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for roads by issuing bonds, but they haven’t been able to come up with an alternative the governor will back.

“We need to come to an agreement with the governor,” Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the budget committee said Friday. “He’s pretty much taken all of our options off the table and we don’t see the bonding out there as a great option.”

Walker didn’t budge Monday.

“I made it clear that while I support a vibrant transportation system, I don’t support raising revenues be it a gas tax or a vehicle registration fee without an offsetting reduction in taxes somewhere else in the budget,” Walker said. “And so far that hasn’t been in any of the proposals.”

Another sticking point in the budget is a financing deal for a new $500 million-plus arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing unidentified sources, reported last week that the deal would include $250 million from taxpayers and $250 million from current and past owners of the Bucks.

Progressives view the arena deal as yet another fleecing of taxpayers, who will shoulder for far more of the costs than its supporters have revealed. Nearly every day, buried costs to taxpayers are uncovered by reporters examining the deals’ details.

Walker said he hopes to have a deal on the arena by the end of the week.