Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on May 11 rejected an idea put forward by the Republican leaders of the Legislature’s budget committee to take up transportation funding in a separate bill outside the normal budget process.
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said they support the option, which could extend debate about how to fund transportation beyond the July 1 start of the 2017-19 biennium.
It also could change the political dynamics of how a deal on transportation is reached, allowing minority Democrats who otherwise wouldn’t vote for a majority Republican-authored budget to boost one of the GOP factions on the contentious issue.
Nygren said the issue was discussed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) on May 10 during a previously scheduled meeting to review bills before the Legislature.
“That’s something that’s possible, but there’s no agreement on that yet,” Nygren said.
A spokesman for Walker said there’s no reason the Legislature can’t address transportation funding through the normal budget process.
“If the Legislature wants to provide more money for transportation, then the governor is willing to work with them on that so long as we’re not raising taxes,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said.
Fitzgerald said May 11 that the option of a separate bill is “always going to be in the mix" but emphasized he was not the one who brought it up.
“It is challenging enough to gather member support for one budget bill,” Fitzgerald said. “If the Republicans are taking up a separate transportation package outside the rest of the state budget and relying on Democrat votes to get it passed, it clearly means we’re in trouble.”
Darling said she wasn’t speaking on behalf of her caucus and said she is “standing up alone” on the possibility.
Vos issued a statement May 11 saying he’s more than willing to negotiate on the transportation budget, “but if we can’t come to an agreement, it means we stay at current law.”
Vos and Nygren are opposed to Walker’s proposal to borrow $500 million in the upcoming biennium to help close a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the transportation budget.
Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) has proposed applying the sales tax to gas and lowering the gas tax to generate $380 million more for transportation. Walker and Fitzgerald have panned that proposal.
Fitzgerald said May 10 that Senate Republicans are leaning toward using borrowing backed by general fund taxes to help pay for roads in the upcoming budget and pursuing tolling on interstate highways as a long-term transportation funding fix.
Republicans have kicked a long-term solution on transportation funding down the road in the previous two budgets. A bipartisan commission in 2013 recommended raising the gas tax 5 cents and exploring a fee based on vehicle-miles traveled to shore up the transportation fund, which was projected then to have a $15.3 billion shortfall over a decade in order to maintain road conditions.