We’re now eleven days since the previous fiscal budget ended and it looks like the budget stalemate will continue. All sides are holding to their positions on whether or not to raise taxes and fees to fund transportation.
The MacIver Institute is reporting that state Senate Republicans under Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, are now unified on the remaining budget items, including transportation funding:
There’s relative agreement in our caucus and our members are actively working to get the budget passed,” Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck told MacIver News.
The caucus met Tuesday morning to finalize its policy positions for the remaining items of the budget not yet addressed by the Joint Committee on Finance. Those include transportation and K12 education. Transportation seems to have dominated the meeting, which concluded shortly after noon.
Fitzgerald’s challenge involves getting a budget deal all his members can agree on, that Assembly Republicans will support, and that the governor won’t veto. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans agreed to reduce bonding from their previous $850 million goal, reject any tax or fee increases, and keep the I-94 east west megaproject on track. Key to this plan will be realizing the tens of millions of dollars in savings identified by the legislative audit bureau in its report on the state highway program.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told WISC-TV the transportation impasse isn’t just about the amount of borrowing. Vos is still holding out for a tax increase:
Vos said Tuesday that the position of Assembly Republicans calling for revenue increases to pay for borrowing remains unchanged. He spoke after Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said GOP senators were working to reduce borrowing below $750 million.
But Vos says without a way to pay for whatever borrowing is proposed, Assembly Republicans will not support the plan. He says the simplest solution would be to have a “little bit” of borrowing with a “little bit” of tax or fee increases to pay for it.
Last week Governor Scott Walker offered his alternative plan which involved less borrowing and no tax or fee increases. The plan involves depending on increased federal transportation aid to keep the I-94 east west megaproject on schedule. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, seemed to cast doubt on that possibility on Friday, according to the MacIver Institute.
Meanwhile, a plan by Assembly Republicans to create a heavy truck tax received another blow, this time from Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) which promised in a letter to legislators to make sure their constituents knew if the representatives voted for the tax. ATR is the organization responsible for the Taxpayer Protection Pledge and is run by the politically influential Grover Norquist. The letter to Assembly members said, “The last thing your constituents need is to have lawmakers in Madison pile on with further tax hikes at the state level.”
“As such, I urge you to reject the proposed tax on heavy trucks,” the letter continued. “I thank you for your public service. ATR will be educating your constituents and all Wisconsin taxpayers as to how lawmakers in Madison vote on this and other important fiscal and economic matters.”
Vos, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, and Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, were recently cautioned by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the powerful GOP-leaning business group, that he’s unlikely to get the tax increases he wants. The organization, which supports raising the gas tax five cents per gallon and raising auto registration fees by $25, wrote to the Assembly leaders, “WMC does not believe revenue enhancements are politically viable in this budget cycle.”