As a stalemate continues over a new state budget, Senate Republicans met behind closed doors Thursday to discuss where they stand on key points that remain under negotiation.
Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee said after the meeting that they are making progress. However, she said the Assembly still needs to come to the table on issues such as transportation and K-12 education funding, along with what impact those areas will have on property taxes. “We want to stick with the governor’s priority, which is to hold the line on property taxes and hold them to the 2014 level…and that’s where we have a difference on the meeting of the minds,” she said.
Assembly Republicans have outlined plans on both areas. They have called for less borrowing to fund roads and lower increases in classroom funding than what Governor Scott Walker initially proposed in his budget.
While they have some differences with the governor’s plan, Darling said the Senate GOP is sticking with the governor’s call for a $200 per pupil increase in the first year, and a $204 increase in the second year of the biennium. On transportation funding, Darling said the two sides remain “far apart” on bonding and taxes.
The conflict has led to some speculation the two chambers could start working on their own budget plans. During a stop in Merrill Thursday, Assembly JFC co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) said the disagreements are not unusual. “If folks expect that when the Governor puts out his budget, we in the Legislature all come in and salute and go home, then we shouldn’t have a Legislature,” he said. “The Legislature represents constituencies throughout the state that bring different perspectives to the table, and this is just a normal part of the process.”
Darling also maintained optimism that the two sides can come together before the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30th. “I think it’s realistic if people sit down and start talking about alternatives and compromises,” she said.
The budget-writing committee has not met for over a week and, while Nygren said it will convene next Thursday, the panel is expected to mainly focus on a proposal from the governor to move state employees to a self-insurance model for health care. Lawmakers have indicated they plan to reject the move, despite claims by the Walker administration that it will save the state money.