When one party controls Madison, members of the minority rarely play a role in budget deliberations. The election of Tony Evers, and the dispute within the GOP about transportation funding, changes that equation.
For example, unless legislative Republicans resolve disagreements on transportation funding, even with a 19-14 majority the Senate might need Democratic votes to pass a budget next year.
When all legislators are included, a majority support raising more transportation revenue, whether from a higher gas tax or a combination of other fee increases.
However, a handful of Senate Republicans disagree. Their views have been most visibly articulated by Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville). If Democratic senators are kept away from the bargaining table, Stroebel and his allies either can block the budget or substantially drag out the process. In 2017, with Governor Scott Walker effectively on their side, budget deliberations continued into the fall.
Among many unknowns at this stage is how aggressive Evers will be in addressing the large gap between current gas tax revenue and documented highway and transit needs. For those who believe the gap is real, the time to address it is in Evers’ first budget. Half-measures simply will mean that the underlying problem resurfaces in 2021-23.
Many scenarios could play out. To illustrate, say Governor-elect Tony Evers and the GOP Assembly reach agreement on transportation. If Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) can’t get 17 of his 19-member caucus to agree he could need to place a call to Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). One assumes her willingness to cooperate will be accompanied by demands that extend beyond the transportation budget. Why would it not?
The maneuvering for position that will accompany next year’s budget deliberations will make for the most interesting legislative session in many years. “Elections have consequences.”