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Walker Downplays GOP Budget Impasse

Walker Tells Reporters In Onalaska He's 'Convinced This Will Get Resolved By The Summer'


Gov. Scott Walker downplayed a growing rift between Republicans over Wisconsin’s state budget Monday, saying he’s confident the budget will be resolved this summer.

It’s been more than two weeks since Wisconsin’s missed its deadline for a new budget and more than a month since the Legislature’s budget committee last met.

In the interim, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have remained far apart when it comes to transportation funding, with Fitzgerald proposing more borrowing than Walker proposed and Vos suggesting that without new taxes or fees, Assembly Republicans won’t support any new borrowing or spending.

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Asked during a stop in Onalaska whether he could support Vos’ plan, Walker did not directly respond, stressing instead that Republicans were not far apart when it came to the budget.

“I’ve said all along I thought there wasn’t a huge gap,” Walker told reporters. “Assembly and Senate Republicans and I all want to spend more money on schools. We want to spend more money on property tax relief, and we want to spend more money on roads. The question is just the degree and how we exactly do that.”

Walker, who was Milwaukee County Executive before he became governor, said he understands when local governments need to know how much money they’re getting from the state.

“You really don’t start sweating it until well into the fall,” Walker said. “So for school districts across the state, they already know we’re going to invest more in K-12 education than ever before. Local governments are in a good situation. I’m convinced this will get resolved by the summer, and the question is just is it this week? Is it next week? Is it a couple weeks in the future?”

Walker’s remarks came a day before Fitzgerald and other Senate GOP leaders were scheduled to hold a press conference to “announce the Senate Republican proposal for Wisconsin’s Biennial Budget.” No further details of the Senate GOP plan were announced Monday.

Walker has opposed raising taxes or fees to balance the transportation budget. He originally proposed borrowing $500 million to pay for roads but suggested two weeks ago that he would reduce borrowing to $300 million in a move he billed as a compromise.

During his stop in Onalaska, Walker hinted he could suggest another budget compromise, but he didn’t offer specifics.

“We think we can go a step further,” Walker said. “We think there are ways we can address both the concerns that Senate Republicans have and Assembly Republicans have.”

Unlike other states that face the prospect of a government shutdown without a budget, in Wisconsin, state spending continues at last year’s levels until a new budget is passed. That reduces the pressure on lawmakers and the governor to have a new budget in place by July 1, which is the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year.

But at some point, pressures would build on Republicans to reach an agreement for a variety of practical and political reasons.

Democrats have tried to seize on the impasse where possible.

For example, on Friday they sent a letter to state Department of Corrections Secretary John Litscher urging him to seek the immediate release of funding for increased staff at the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons. That funding was already approved by the Legislature’s budget committee, but it remains on hold with the rest of the budget.

“The Legislature has failed to meet the July 1 budget deadline, and because of that, positions are not posted, policies are not changed, and program expansions are stalled,” read the letter from the four Democratic members of the Legislature’s budget committee.

A DOC spokesman said he was looking into the letter.

Walker traveled the state Monday with Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, to sign Nygren’s bills aimed at addressing opioid abuse. Nygren is the co-chair of the budget committee and a political ally of Vos.

“We want to get it done right, we don’t want to get it done fast,” Nygren said.

Walker said he would discuss the budget with Fitzgerald, of Juneau, and Vos, of Rochester, again at their weekly meeting Wednesday.

“We’re operating just fine,” Walker said. “As we stand today, there is no crisis.”

Editor’s Note: Wisconsin Public Radio’s Hope Kirwan contributed to this report.