Here are the latest developments in the state budget stalemate.
As predicted, transportation remains the biggest stumbling block to passage of a budget for the period from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019. The budget is now five days over due, but unlike other states where the government shuts down without a budget, Wisconsin just continues along at the same spending levels of the previous budget.
Last week Republicans who control both the Assembly and Senate floated a new idea: a higher tax on heavy trucks. That would have produced about $250 million over the two-year budget period. Not enough to cover the projected $1 billion shortfall, but still significant. That idea seemed to have legs until it was shot down by five GOP senators and the state’s business lobby. Republicans control the Senate 20-13, so they can only afford to lose three of their own members or they would be forced to work with minority Democrats. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said that his caucus will not ask for Democratic votes.
Things have fallen into a familiar pattern with Assembly Republicans led by Speaker Robin Vos proposing funding solutions while the governor and Senate Republicans reject them. So after the rejection of the heavy truck proposal Vos was quote as saying that he was tired of proposing things only to have the governor and the other house turn them down. He essentially challenged the Senate and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce to propose their own way out.
The only funding sources that Senate Republicans have indicated support for to this point have been study of a tolling system (which has come in for opposition from much of the state’s tourism industry) and more borrowing to be paid back from the general fund. The problem with that last idea is that it sets up transportation to compete with schools, health care and everything else the state does instead of being paid for from its own dedicated account.
The Bike Fed continues to work for more funding for local roads — to fix the potholes, repair the cracks and pave the shoulders on the roads that we ride on. And we support any funding solution that will allow the state to sustain that investment in local road repair over the lengthy period it will take to fix the problems out there.
So, what happens next? Well, a stalemate in the budget process isn’t all that unusual, though it doesn’t happen much when one party controls both houses and the governor’s office. Vos could probably get a budget passed by simply backing down on transportation and letting the current unsustainable situation continue for another two years.
We give the Speaker credit for being unwilling to just kick the can down the road and to avoid the hard choices. We’re with him in looking for a long-term solution that improves the streets, roads and highways we travel on. If it takes longer to get there that’s okay with us.