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Joint Finance Expected to Vote on Budget Today

Wisconsin's State Capitol

GOP leaders stood side-by-side on Wednesday to announce they had broken their impasse. It involved whether the state should help fund a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, whether Wisconsin should change its prevailing wage law, and how much the state should borrow to pay for transportation projects.

Republican leaders have decided to take two of those three items out of the proposed state budget. It could move forward Thursday.  

Republicans have been doing a lot of maneuvering in Madison to come up with a budget bill the majority will accept. GOP leaders whittled down the governor’s financing package for a new Milwaukee arena, from $220 million to $55 million. Yet Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has agreed to pull the item out of the proposed state budget. He indicates that he may not have enough Republican support to include the arena plan.

“I think a lot of my members felt early on that there was value in having Democrats that represent Milwaukee County or the city of Milwaukee also support the arena proposal, which also meant you know probably the cleanest way of doing that was to make sure that the bill was not in the state budget,” Fitzgerald says.

Republican leaders are scheduled to sit down with Gov. Walker Thursday to ensure the arena bill will have enough bipartisan support to pass.

The other divisive item GOP leaders have removed from the proposed budget is the prevailing wage. It sets minimum wages for certain public works projects. Fitzgerald says there is a core group of Republicans who’ve said they will not support the budget without a full repeal of the prevailing wage law. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says that repeal could happen.

He’s promising to schedule a vote on a partial repeal for the same day the Assembly votes on the spending plan.

“I predict that by the time the budget is finished we will send both bills, a repeal of portions at least, we will send that to the state Senate along with the budget and then they’ll deal with it in their chamber in their own way. That’s our plan to deal with it in the Assembly,” Vos says.

When it comes to the final issue causing division – borrowing for transportation, Republican leaders say they’ve come up with a plan that borrows less and prioritizes projects. Gov. Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion over the next two years to keep road construction in high gear. Instead, GOP leaders are now calling for $500 million in borrowing, with an additional $350 million possible if the Joint Finance Committee agrees. Vos says most of the Zoo Interchange project would continue, but the state would postpone work on some others.

“The north leg of the Zoo will be put on hold just like other projects around the state will be. It will be approximately half in each. It might be a little bit more out state, but it’s pretty close,” Vos says.

While Vos and Fitzgerald tout the plan they’ve come up with, Democrats are not as enthused. Rep. Christine Taylor says the proposal to limit borrowing for transportation will cost the state more than 5,000 jobs.

“How are we going to make up for those jobs? Our job creation efforts, our governor and this Legislature’s job creation efforts have been anemic. How are we going to make up for the loss of at least 5,500 jobs under their transportation plan?” Taylor says.

Taylor says people across the state have been speaking out against this budget so Republicans should rethink it. She says of particular concern to many who’ve testified at hearings are cuts to education, including a $250 million reduction for the UW-System.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is expected to approve the budget today. It would then head to the Assembly for a vote next Tuesday or Wednesday.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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