State Senate Republicans Unveil Budget Plan

State Senate Republicans have announced a plan to end the 18-day standoff over the state’s overdue budget. The 2017-19 state spending plan released Tuesday provides the most detailed look at where Senate Republicans stand on unresolved areas of the budget, such as taxes and funding for schools, roads and bridges.

While Tuesday’s proposal is intended to restart budget discussions, Fitzgerald acknowledged, even as he unveiled it, that he’s not sure if the Senate could pass the measure as-is. “I’m not going to make that prediction that I have the votes right now,” Fitzgerald said.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said the Senate plan contained few new proposals, but a “wide gap” remains on transportation funding, the main issue holding up the budget’s passage. Still, Assembly GOP leaders said the plan’s arrival is good news.

“It’s good to see Senate Republicans have solidified their positions and are ready to come back to the table,” Assembly Republican leaders, including Vos, said in a statement.

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson also tweeted Tuesday that the governor “welcomes the initiative by the state Senate to move the process forward while keeping his priorities largely intact on K-12 education funding, property tax relief, and transportation. The governor will continue to champion income tax relief.”

The budget proposal includes K-12 school proposals that have largely been negotiated with Assembly Republican leaders, including increasing the number of families eligible for a taxpayer-funded voucher to attend a private school, Fitzgerald said.

On transportation funding — where the gap between Assembly and Senate GOP leaders appears greatest — Fitzgerald said his plan would avoid delays to major highway projects, in part with $712 million in new borrowing.

Assembly Republicans have said they won’t support new road borrowing without a plan to pay for it. Senate Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker have resisted proposals to provide more revenue for roads and bridges.

The Senate GOP plan uses most of its extra borrowing to fund massive freeway projects in southeast Wisconsin, including on U.S. Interstate 94 near Milwaukee. It also would repeal the prevailing wage requirement for state-funded projects, as Walker proposed. Two years ago, Walker and lawmakers repealed prevailing wage for projects funded by local governments.

The Senate plan would eliminate 200 state Department of Transportation staff positions and end DOT studies of possible future highway expansions, including one for the Madison Beltline. Fitzgerald said the plan does not move the state closer to collecting highway tolls, a step state leaders had weighed heavily in recent months.

The Senate plan includes several key tax changes, including eliminating the state’s personal property tax and alternative minimum tax. It excludes Walker’s proposal for a state income tax cut, which would cut the tax rates of the two bottom income brackets.

Another Walker proposal that doesn’t make the Senate plan is a sales tax holiday for two days in August for school supplies, which would cost the state about $22 million in revenue.