MADISON, Wis. — Republican senators will not pass a budget that raises taxes and fees to pay for roads without corresponding cuts elsewhere because it would almost certainly be vetoed by Gov. Scott Walker, the chamber’s GOP leader said Thursday.
Walker and Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature are split on how best to pay for roads, a conflict that’s likely to be one of the biggest issues in the state budget debate next year.
The transportation budget faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall, which Walker has said will be fixed by delaying projects and borrowing money. Assembly Republican leaders call that an irresponsible political fix that will unnecessarily delay mega-projects in southeastern Wisconsin and some senators have publicly called for raising taxes to pay for road repairs.
The rare intraparty spat over roads has been playing out in public, with Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos trading letters Wednesday reiterating their positions. Walker has said he would entertain a tax increase only if there’s an equal cut someplace else in the budget. Vos said Assembly Republicans were coming up with an alternative plan and would be holding public hearings.
Fitzgerald, speaking Thursday to reporters in the halls of the Capitol, acknowledged that the issue has divided his caucus. But he ruled out passing a budget that raises taxes for roads because Walker would veto it.
“How is that productive?” Fitzgerald said. “You’re going to have to work with the governor.”
During a stop in Milwaukee on Thursday, Walker said occasional differences, even within his party, are OK.
“We’re open to having a good debate and discussion about it,” Walker said. “I would imagine even between now and the time the budget that we present comes to the Legislature in February, they’ll be an audit that will come out, they’ll be some other suggestions and we’ll look for ways working with the Legislature and both parties on ways to improve that budget request.”
The budget proposal put forward last week by the Department of Transportation calls for borrowing $500 million and cutting $447 million by delaying a number of major projects, including work on the final phase of Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange rebuild and Madison’s Beltline.
The plan would devote no money toward a plan to reconstruct Interstate 94 from Milwaukee south to Illinois, leaving the project half-finished. Work on expanding Interstate 39/90 between Madison and Illinois would remain on pace, as would work on Highway 110/441 in the Fox Valley.
Walker will formally introduce his two-year state spending plan early next year and the Legislature will work on changes to it for months. A final vote is likely in June or July.
Fitzgerald said he would oppose breaking transportation spending out of the rest of the budget to debate on its own, calling that a “heavy lift times two.”
Though Republicans control both chambers, Democrats are hopeful they can win the three seats required in November to control the Senate.