The co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget writing committee have announced they plan to make a number of changes to Governor Scott Walker’s proposed spending plan, which include starting over on transportation funding.
In a memo released Thursday afternoon, Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said they will used the plan Walker offered earlier this year as the beginning point for budget deliberations, with the exception of his plan to fund the Department of Transportation. The move means lawmakers will look for a way to close a projected billion dollar shortfall in the transportation fund, other than the borrowing and road project delays the governor had recommended.
The memo also indicates lawmakers will remove 83 policy items from the budget that are not related to state finances. Those issues will instead be introduced as stand-alone bills.
In a statement, Walker largely praised the move as a sign that the K-12 funding levels he suggested will be in place as budget talks begin. “As I have traveled to every county for listening sessions and visited schools districts throughout Wisconsin, one message is clear – we need to take our Reform Dividend and invest it in K-12 education. That is what my budget does, and by keeping my proposal today, the Legislature recognizes the need to make public education a top priority,” Walker said.
The committee’s decision could foreshadow a battle over transportation funding this spring, which has long been expected. Republicans in the Assembly have argued that all options should be on the table to fund road projects, including an increase in the gas tax or vehicle registration fees. Walker has said he opposes that move, without it being equally offset in some other area.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor “welcomes the opportunity to work with lawmakers on investments in transportation now that it is clear that they will not take away from his historic levels of support for K-12 education. He is open to many different options as long as they don’t include an increase in the gas tax.”
JFC members will continue statewide budget hearings on Friday with a stop in Pepin. They are expected to begin holding executive sessions on the budget sometime in May.