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GOP legislators announce roads plan; deal will allow finance committee to finish budget work

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MADISON, Wisconsin — Republican leaders said Wednesday that they agreed on a plan to fund Wisconsin's road projects over the next two years, edging them closer to an elusive deal on a new state budget.

They're not there yet, though. It looks like the deal won't be enough to get the massive spending plan through the Senate.

The Legislature's finance committee is expected to approve the road plan during an all-night session Thursday into Friday. Approval would wrap up the committee's revisions to the budget and clear the way for votes in the Assembly and Senate. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said his chamber will vote on the budget first, most likely next Tuesday or Wednesday. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he still doesn't have the votes to push the budget through his house.

"I don't have the votes right now as we stand here," Fitzgerald said during a news conference. "But I don't expect to have the votes. There's still a number of members, specifically outside the finance committee, about things they'd like to see added or deleted from the budget."

He did not elaborate and his spokeswoman didn't immediately return a message left at his Capitol office.

The finance committee had nearly finished revising Gov. Scott Walker's executive budget when work halted in late May as Republicans fought among themselves over three sticking points: road funding, money for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena and whether to repeal prevailing wage statutes that require the state and local government to pay construction workers minimum salaries on public projects.

Walker, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, included $1.3 billion in borrowing for roads and $222 million in borrowing for the new arena in his budget proposal. GOP legislators balked at those numbers. A group of Republican lawmakers also have been pushing to include language in the budget wiping out the prevailing wage. Both Vos and Fitzgerald have said they don't have the votes in their respective houses to pass a full repeal.

On Tuesday Republican leaders announced they had to drop the arena plan from the budget and instead introduce a new deal for a $500 million stadium that relies on $250 million from taxpayers as a separate bill. They also announced they would not include any prevailing wage changes in the budget.

PHOTO: Wisconsin Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, addresses member of the media about the state's budget following a press conference held by Republican legislative leaders in the Senate Parlor of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)
Wisconsin Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, addresses member of the media about the state's budget following a press conference held by Republican legislative leaders in the Senate Parlor of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)

Vos, R-Rochester, said Wednesday that the transportation plan calls for $500 million in borrowing as well as an additional $350 million in borrowing that would be controlled by the finance committee rather than the state Department of Transportation. The agency would have to convince the committee that a project deserves a chunk of that additional money.

The plan would mean delays for road projects around the state. Vos said the delays would be evenly distributed between rural and urban projects. A portion of work on the Zoo Interchange, a major artery near Milwaukee, would be delayed, he noted.

The plan also calls for another study on how to generate more revenue for roads. Republicans set up a task force to study road-funding shortfalls in 2012 but ended up scrapping the group's recommendations to raise the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

Vos said the Assembly would take up a separate bill repealing the prevailing wage statutes on the same day it considers the budget. He said he hopes to amend the measure to eliminate the requirement for local governments and eliminate state prevailing wage rates on state projects in favor of the federal scale. That move would save the state administrative costs.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, promised the Senate would take up the Bucks arena bill next week but didn't specify a day. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders planned to meet with Walker on Thursday to discuss how to generate support for the arena.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Democrats would be open to voting for the Bucks arena — a contingent of Assembly Democrats hail from Milwaukee — but decried the other developments. He said the transportation plan would lead to crumbling infrastructure and layoffs for road builders and the prevailing wage repeal would hurt construction workers.

"It's going to look worse in Wisconsin over the next two years," Barca said during his own news conference.

Walker initially said he wouldn't announce a presidential run until after the budget was signed, but has since backed off that statement. He is expected to make his announcement as soon as July 13.


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