Despite controlling both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office, Republicans faced some trouble this year in the push to get a state budget done on time.
Lawmakers kicked-off the session with optimism that the budget would be done in early June – almost a full month ahead of schedule. They were on track to meet that target, until they hit a figurative roadblock, in the form of a dispute over transportation funding.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was among Republicans worried about the proposed $1.3 billion in borrowing Governor Scott Walker had proposed, which he said they work on reducing. Other concerns included whether to include funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks’ arena and a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law in the budget bill. The process was also slowed by news that no additional revenue was expected during the biennium.
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which does most of the heavy lifting on the budget, met at the end of May and then did not come in again during the full month of June.
The biennium ended on June 30 without a new budget in place, the first time the budget had been overdue since lawmakers failed to approve a budget until October during the 2007 legislative session. Following lengthy talks behind closed doors, Republican leaders announced on July 1 that they were ready to move ahead with the tentative framework of a budget deal. Even then, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) admitted he may not actually have the votes to pass the bill.
The agreement called for reducing the level of bonding in the budget by at least $450 million and taking up funding for a new Bucks arena separately. Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor of Madison worried the cuts would lead to delays in key state road projects. “They are kicking the can down the road,” she argued. “They are not coming up with a long term solution.”
When the bill hit the Assembly floor, state Rep. Diane Hesselbein (D-Middleton) offered her bleak assessment of the plan, calling it the “worst budget ever.”
There was some last minute drama surrounding the bill’s passage. Lawmakers added and then hastily removed changes to the state’s open records law, Senate Republicans added a repeal of the prevailing wage law during their floor debate, and the Assembly saw its debate disrupted for hours because of a bomb threat.
The Assembly gave final approval to the bill in the early morning hours of July 9, and Governor Scott Walker signed it into law just a few days later, saying “with this budget, the taxpayers come first.”