Joint Finance Members Prepare to Burn the Midnight Oil

May 26, 2015

More marathon sessions are expected in Madison. The Legislature’s Joint Finance committee is moving into its final week of budget deliberations.

Gov. Walker has indicated he wants his budget passed quickly, and several huge items remain.

One big lingering matter is Wisconsin’s transportation budget for the next two years. JR Ross covers state government for the online news magazine He says the Joint Finance Committee must decide how to fund highway projects.

“Lawmakers are not happy that Gov. Walker wanted to bond $1.3 billion to pay for roads in the next two years. They want to lower that but the problem is, they don’t have enough revenue coming from other sources to offset that borrowing. So, there’s talk about a fee increase but Gov. Walker now says he considers a fee increase a tax and he would oppose that,” Ross says.

The budget committee must also decide how to respond to the governor’s plan to cut the UW System by $300 million. Ross says Republicans have indicated they want to scale back the reduction.

“How much money do they have to do that? They still have room to play if you will, in this budget. They’ve been saving general purpose revenue which is the main checking account in Wisconsin. They’ve been squirreling some money aside and trying to create room,” Ross says.

Then there’s the governor’s plan to help fund a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. He wants to borrow $220 million for the project, and pay back the money using the income taxes NBA players would pay the state.

The Legislature’s budget committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Friday – to vote on all those items, and members plan to even carve out time on Saturday if necessary.

The governor has said he wants to sign the new state budget into law as soon as possible. Then, he’ll announce whether he’s running for president. UW-Milwaukee Professor Mordecai Lee believes Walker would use the budget as his platform.

“He wants to have a budget that he can run on for president, one that matches both his policy views and what the GOP primary voters would want. So, it would be things like not increasing taxes including not increasing the gas tax, or not having state taxpayers pay for the Bucks arena,” Lee says.

Despite the governor’s desire to sign the budget as soon as possible, Lee says the speed of this year’s process appears to be on par with other years.

After Joint Finance finishes its work, it’ll send the spending package to the full Legislature. Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate can make changes, but Gov. Walker might have the final say with his veto pen.