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Wisconsin Republicans Spar Publicly Over Transportation Budget

road construction
Marge Pitrof
794 in downtown Milwaukee is another DOT project in progress

State Republican leaders issued dueling press releases on Thursday, about their positions related to transportation funding in the next state budget.

Sen. Alberta Darling says will not retract her comment that Assembly leaders want to delay work on the Zoo Interchange, in order to pressure the state Senate to approve a hike in the gas tax or vehicle registration fees.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Rep. John Nygren have asked Darling to 'walk' back her statements, insisting they do not support raising taxes and fees, but want to ensure that any transportation reductions are felt equally across the state.

Nygren and Darling are co-chairs of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. It's working on Gov. Walker's proposed budget for the state but is deadlocked over his plan to borrow $1.3 billion to keep road projects on schedule. Walker opposes hikes in taxes and fees, but GOP legislative leaders have said they don't want Wisconsin to go that deep into debt, so the alternative may be to postpone projects.

Darling says she wants to protect the Zoo Interchange rebuilding project from delays because that web of freeway ramps is the busiest in the state. She stated, in her release, "I stand by my comments. There are more responsible solutions we must consider. Like my Assembly colleagues, I believe the bonding in the transportation budget is unsustainable and must be reduced. I also agree with my Assembly colleagues that all areas of our state should share in any reductions in transportation projects. However, I believe this can be accomplished through a measured approach. Delaying the completion of the core of the Zoo Interchange could jeopardize safety would harm our state's economy. I won't let safety and our economy be used as bargaining chips."

The release from Vos and Nygren reads, in part, "we have been clear that we would not support an increase in the gas tax. As soon as it became known that the governor changed his position and would not support an increase in registration fees, that option was taken off the table. To say that Assembly Republicans are now pressing for both of these revenue enhancers would be incorrect. In fact, Alberta Darling is being disingenuous in making that characterization. As Assembly Republicans move forward in the budget discussions, we want to ensure that any transportation reductions are felt equally across the state. Under the Senate plan, out-state legislators would feel the brunt of the cuts and many in our caucus don’t feel that option is fair."

Vos is from Rochester, Nygren from Marinette and Darling from River Hills.

The existing state budget expires on June 30. If the state does not have a new document by then, the existing budget continues for the time being.

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