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July 5, 2015

Republicans announce tentative Wisconsin budget deal

Republican leaders announce a budget deal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republican leaders announce a budget deal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republican leaders say they have reached an agreement to help move the state budget forward, although whether the plan has the support needed to pass the full Legislature remains in doubt.

Under the deal announced Wednesday morning at the Capitol, the $1.3 billion in bonding for transportation projects proposed by Governor Scott Walker would be reduced by at least $450 million. Controversial proposals to repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law and to provide public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena would also be removed, with plans to take them up as standalone legislation. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said “I think we were able to sit down in good faith, put together a structure that’s going to allow us to finish the budget…get it to the governor’s desk.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) admitted support in his chamber remains questionable. “No, I don’t have the votes right now as we stand here,” the Juneau Republican said.

The deal is expected to get the budget out of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which has seen its work stalled for the past month while lawmakers tried to reach agreements on a handful of remaining issues. The panel is scheduled to meet tomorrow to finalize its work, while the Assembly could open debate on the budget bill as early as next Tuesday.

At the same time as the budget debate, Speaker Vos said his chamber will take up an amended version of a prevailing wage repeal bill that passed out of a committee earlier this year, which he predicted will pass. A plan to help finance a downtown Milwaukee arena will also get a standalone vote, which Sen. Fitzgerald remains hopeful will be taken up next week in his chamber.

Democrats were critical of the budget being proposed by the GOP. State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) accused them of “following our absentee governor off the cliff,” while even going further in areas like expanding funding for private school voucher programs. “In many instances they’re making this budget even worse than this governor did,” Taylor said.

Wisconsin ends fiscal year without a budget

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

UPDATE: Lawmakers announced late Tuesday evening that they have reached a tentative agreement on a budget deal. Assembly Republican Leader Jim Steineke said it will cut transportation funding, while protecting several major projects. Funding for a Milwaukee Bucks arena and a repeal of the prevailing wage will be removed, and taken up as separate legislation. More details were expected to be released at a Capitol news conference Wednesday morning.

—-original story follows—-

As June ends, so does Wisconsin’s fiscal year…and it’s ending without a new state budget in place.

The state’s fiscal year ended at midnight without lawmakers taking action on a budget plan for the new biennium. Unlike at the federal level though, state government will continue to operate without a new budget. Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance researcher Dale Knapp says “funding levels for all state departments will continue at the levels where they were in the last fiscal year, so residents of the state will not experience any interruption.”

Knapp notes that past budgets have been completed after a fiscal year ended, although it usually happens with split-party control at the Capitol. He admits that “it’s unusual to see this happen when you have one party controlling both houses and the governor’s office.”

Majority Republicans have been in a stalemate for over a month on a number of issues, including transportation funding, financing for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, and whether to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law. Leaders in both chambers have said they have been unable to reach a consensus in those areas.

Knapp says the stalemate should not be a serious concern unless it stretches into mid-July. However, he expects it could be settled relatively soon. GOP leaders continue to meet this week at the Capitol, with some indications that they are getting closer to an agreement.

Bo Ryan says he’ll retire after upcoming season (Update – Audio)

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan

Wisconsin coaching legend Bo Ryan, who has led the Badgers to back-to-back Final Four appearances, will retire after the upcoming season.

The 67-year-old Ryan said in a statement that he will coach this season and then step down.  His hope is that longtime assistant Greg Gard succeeds him in Madison.

“Back in the spring, in the days after the national championship game, (UW Athletic Director) Barry Alvarez and I discussed the possibility of me retiring,” Ryan said in the statement.  “I’ve always been told that is not a decision to make right after a season is completed.  Barry thankfully encouraged me to take some time to think about it and I have done that.  I considered retiring this summer or coaching one more season. [Read more…]

Assembly Republicans push prevailing wage plan

Republicans outline their latest prevailing wage proposal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republicans outline their latest prevailing wage proposal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

With a budget stalemate stretching out past the four week mark, Assembly Republicans are offering up a proposal they argue will help settle one of the remaining roadblocks to wrapping up work on the plan.

GOP leaders on Monday morning outlined proposed reforms to Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law, a system that requires workers on public construction projects to be paid a wage that’s determined using a state formula. Republicans and several advocacy groups have argued that repealing the law could save local governments and taxpayers millions of dollars, while eliminating costly and time-consuming administrative practices. Opponents of the move contend it would lower the quality of work done on important public projects, such as roads and bridges.

Under the plan from Assembly Republicans, public construction projects with a budget under $450,000 would be exempt from having to pay the prevailing wage. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said that would keeping from applying to about 60 percent of the projects done in the state each year and called it “a major step forward.”

State Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford), who owns a roofing business, said the reform package would mean “significant savings for school districts, municipalities, and…taxpayers in the state.”

While Vos is confident the package has the support needed to pass in his chamber, its chances in the Republican-controlled Senate are less certain. Multiple members of that chamber have indicated they want a full repeal. State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said in a statement that the Assembly plan “intentionally fails to save the taxpayers and local governments the most money on the costliest of construction projects. I will stand with the taxpayers by only supporting a compromise that repeals prevailing laws on all units of local government.”

Vos fired back at those pushing for a full repeal, saying the Assembly plan makes “incremental” changes to the prevailing wage law. “There are some who will say if we can’t have everything, we should stand for nothing,” Vos said. “That’s not where Republicans have ever been. We make incremental reforms where possible.”

The prevailing wage is one of the remaining issues that have stalled state budget talks for the past month, along with transportation funding and financing for a Milwaukee Bucks arena. It remains unclear when lawmakers will be ready to vote on the budget.

Democratic leader says cutting road projects a mistake

Assembly minority leader Peter Barca (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Assembly minority leader Peter Barca (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

It’s been a month since members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee met to take action on Wisconsin’s biennial budget. They have spent much of the past month in closed-door meetings, trying to hash out deals on transportation funding, the prevailing wage, and public financing for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

While there is debate over whether the prevailing wage or the arena will be in the budget lawmakers ultimately vote on, transportation funding is a pressing concern they are working to address. Governor Scott Walker’s budget called for $1.3 billion in borrowing to help pay for road projects, but Republicans have largely balked at that proposal. They want to cut at least $800 million from that figure, which would halt or slow down several road projects around the state.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) argues it would be a mistake to let that happen. The Kenosha Democrat says major projects, such as an overhaul of Verona Road in Madison and the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee, “need to be completed.”

Barca says Republicans need to lead on the issue and look for other funding options. He agrees that it was a mistake to considering bonding to support the projects, but “now it’s a mistake that they’re not coming up with some revenue to meet these obligations.”

That revenue would likely come in the form of a gas tax or vehicle registration fee increase. Republicans have publicly shied away from those options because Governor Walker has said he will not sign a budget that raises taxes, unless they are offset in other areas. With state revenue estimates coming in lower than expected earlier this year, it’s unlikely lawmakers could find cuts in other areas.

Lawmakers have until June 30 to pass a budget, when the state’s current fiscal year ends. The state will not shutdown if they have not passed a budget by that date though. It will just continue to operate under the previous biennium’s budget.