Republicans no Closer to Road-Funding Deal

Republican legislative leaders appeared to be no closer to an agreement Wednesday over how to solve Wisconsin’s road-budget shortfall, with the Senate GOP leader discounting a sweeping tax-reform plan released  by the Assembly last week.

Gov. Scott Walker also opposes that proposal and is reiterating his opposition to any plan that would raise taxes. In the face of their own proposal’s likely rejection, Assembly leaders challenged Senate Republicans to come up with an alternative.

“Today we’re not in the same place,” budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren said. “We have to come up with a solution that addresses the problem.”

The intra-party squabbling came amid news that the state’s tax collections are holding steady, meaning there will be no more, and no less, revenue available in the state budget than had been expected in January.

The biggest question Republicans have in the budget concerns the state’s projected $1 billion roads shortfall. Walker proposed delaying projects and borrowing about half a billion dollars. Assembly Republicans offered a plan that would lower the borrowing to $200 million, move to a flat income tax over 12 years, cut the gas tax and apply the sales tax to fuel sales, among many other changes.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos guaranteed on Wednesday that the Legislature won’t pass a road budget that increases borrowing by $300 million or more.

“That is a non-starter for the Assembly,” Vos said. “We’re not going to continue to borrow and spend. And that unfortunately is what we have done for six years and I take part of the responsibility for that. We kept thinking we would find a long-term solution.”

Fitzgerald, just minutes later, told reporters he was open to additional borrowing and spending from the state’s main account, along with toll roads. He all-but said the Assembly approach was dead on arrival, saying “I don’t see the momentum for that plan ultimately being adopted and being part of this budget right now.”

Walker has said he’d be willing to look at more spending from the state’s main account — which also pays for K-12 schools, the University of Wisconsin, prisons, Medicaid and other government operations — to help pay for roads.