7/22/2017, Green Bay Press-Gazette – It’s difficult to believe that a two-year budget wouldn’t be finished on time given the Republican majorities in the state Senate and Assembly and a Republican governor.
Yet that’s where we sit now, with the 2017-19 $76 billion budget three weeks overdue.
The biggest roadblock has been transportation funding and whether to borrow to pay for road projects or seek increases in the gas tax and/or registration fees, or consider new revenue streams, like tolls.
Senate Republicans and the governor proposed borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars instead of increasing any fees or taxes. Assembly Republicans don’t want to borrow without any new revenue coming in.
The sides seemed miles apart.
Then on Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker met with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The governor proposed redirecting $200 million to transportation from a proposed tax cut. The two-year budget would start with no borrowing, and the state could borrow later if it received extra federal aid.
Assembly Republicans signed on; the Senate GOP didn’t.
Governing is about give and take, it’s about compromise, finding a middle ground. Assembly leaders displayed leadership their counterparts in the Senate seem to lack. They didn’t get everything they wanted in this compromise, but they’re a far cry from the $712 million in bonding the Senate proposed and the $500 million in borrowing the governor wanted.
So we are at an impasse.
The Senate plan is a non-starter because it borrows too much. Plus, $350 million of the $712 million would be repaid from the general fund, which is used to help pay for schools and health care programs, neither of which can sustain any further hits to their budget.
Two years later, Senate Republicans have made no headway in that department and, in fact, want to borrow even more. They’re willing to put this expense on the backs of future generations because they want to end the personal property tax, which businesses pay for their equipment and furnishings.
Assembly Republicans, meanwhile, have entertained other ways of creating revenue to fund our roads without creating massive amounts of debt. In May, Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Vandenbroek, called on the governor and Senate to “come forward with a true, conservative plan that fixes our roads and pays for it without borrowing at the peril of our children.”
He’s right. The state shouldn’t fund transportation projects through borrowing. We believe road projects should be paid through users fees, such as the gas tax and vehicle registration. Let’s even consider tolls … anything that gets those who use the roads the most to help pay for their upkeep and construction.
In the meantime, the Senate needs to drop its obstinate stance. Instead of endlessly idling at a budget impasse, the governor and Assembly leaders have hit upon a compromise. They’ve moved the discussion forward.
Unfortunately, the Senate refuses to budge. It’s time for its leaders to get on board.