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.