Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee could face some lengthy and heated discussions today, as the panel is poised to wrap up its work on Wisconsin’s biennial budget plan.
Friday’s agenda includes such hotly disputed topics as transportation funding, the University of Wisconsin System, and a proposal to cut several Department of Natural Resources scientists. A developing plan to have the state help finance a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks is also listed as being up for discussion.
Republicans have already indicated they plan to undo at least part of Governor Scott Walker’s plans for the UW System. Walker had proposed $300 million in cuts for UW campuses, while also giving the System more autonomy over some financial decisions to help them absorb the losses. JFC leadership indicated earlier this spring they would be removing the autonomy provision, but left the future of the proposed cuts undetermined.
Leaders of the Finance Committee have also indicated they are unsure about $1.3 billion in bonding proposed by the governor to help fund transportation projects. Walker on Thursday maintained that the overall level of bonding he’s proposing is the lowest in a decade, and restated his opposition to raising gas taxes or vehicle registration fees to pay for transportation. Walker said during a stop in Portage “I’ve made it clear, I don’t support a gas tax increase or vehicle registration fee increase. The only way I would support that I the future is if it was offset by an equal or greater amount of tax relief.”
Walker’s proposal to reduce staffing at the DNR by 80 positions, 30 of which are permanent spot in the science and education sectors, is also expected to raise debate from minority Democrats. They gained new ammunition on the issue this week, with a report from the on-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing it could also results in additional job losses in the agency because of a requirement that limited term, probationary, and project employees with the same job titles would have to be laid off first. The finance panel will also act on Walker’s request to stop buying land through the DNR’s Stewardship Program until at least 2028.
Talks also continue over a plan to have the state partially fund the construction of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. Details of a possible deal have not been made public yet, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said unnamed sources have indicated the plan would have the state financing at least half of the $500 million project.
Exactly how Republicans plan to handle today’s agenda remains largely unclear. The budget committee frequently does not release the more controversial motions it plans to take up until just hours before the panel votes on those items. It’s also possible it could delay action on some items until next week.