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Legislative leaders unveil budget deal, but Senate passage in question
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STATE BUDGET | controversial issues to be considered separately

Legislative leaders unveil budget deal, but Senate passage in question

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Hours after a deadline to have a new state budget in place, Wisconsin legislative leaders announced a deal that they said could break the budget logjam that has left the state Capitol in a weeks-long holding pattern.

The deal would resolve a dispute on road funding and calls for two especially controversial issues — changes to the state’s prevailing wage and public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena — to be taken up on their own, outside of the new, two-year budget.

But it wasn’t immediately clear whether the budget deal will pass muster with rank-and-file lawmakers. Even as he announced the deal, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged the votes aren’t there in the Senate to pass it.

“I don’t have the votes today as we stand here,” said Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

Fitzgerald said later on a conservative radio talk show that he couldn’t say if the budget would be passed by July 13 — the day Gov. Scott Walker is expected to announce his bid for the presidency. Walker previously said his presidential announcement would come only after he signs a new budget, though he recently changed course on that timeline.

Wednesday’s announcement tees up an eventful stretch for the next week after lawmakers spent the last month waiting, in vain, for progress. The budget will be considered in the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee Thursday, with the Assembly expected to take it up as soon as Tuesday, legislative leaders said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he expects the Assembly next week to take up a measure to repeal the state’s prevailing wage for local government projects and apply the federal prevailing wage to state-funded projects. He said he’s confident the measure will pass the Assembly. From there it would head to the Senate, where its fate is less certain.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said he expects the Senate to take the lead on a Bucks arena bill. That proposal could come up in the Senate as soon as Monday, he said.

Vos, R-Rochester, and Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the budget deal was struck late Tuesday. That was the final day of the 2013-15 budget cycle. In Wisconsin, funding levels from the previous budget continue until a new budget is enacted.

“We were able to sit down in good faith and put together a structure that can allow us to finish the budget and get it to the governor’s desk,” Vos said. “We can show exactly why the things that are inside this budget are good for Wisconsin; they’re good for the taxpayers.”

Transportation spending

Walker, in his budget, proposed borrowing $1.3 billion for transportation projects. Republicans who control the Legislature agreed that was too much but have squabbled for weeks on how much to reduce it and which projects should be delayed as a result of the reductions.

Vos said the deal calls for $500 million in transportation bonding plus $350 million in bonding that will be in the joint finance appropriation — allowing committee members to review expenditures of those dollars.

Ongoing construction on the Milwaukee-area Zoo Interchange project would stay on track and avoid delays under the budget deal. Subsequent plans to revamp a northern stretch of the interchange would be delayed, Vos said.

The interchange had been a sticking point in negotiations for many Senate Republicans. Some Assembly Republicans, especially from rural areas, opposed any plan to spare the interchange from funding cuts out of concern it would disproportionately harm projects elsewhere in the state.

Vos said earlier this week as he unveiled budget proposals that the Assembly wasn’t going to wait for Senate Republicans to get their votes together after a month-long budget stalemate.

Fitzgerald said Wednesday he approached Vos to tell him the Senate was further along than Vos suggested and wants the finance committee to finish its work so his “leadership role can kick in” to get the votes the Senate needs to pass a budget.

Walker’s involvement

Democratic lawmakers have assailed Gov. Scott Walker as being absent from Wisconsin’s budget talks as he explores a run for president.

When asked by talk show host Charlie Sykes how involved Walker has been in budget negotiations, Fitzgerald said the governor calls him on a daily basis asking how things are going and whether Fitzgerald needs his help. Fitzgerald said Walker’s chief of staff also is “camped out” in his office about half the week.

“It’s pretty normal,” he said about Walker’s involvement.

Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said in a statement that the governor and his staff “have been in continual contact with legislative leaders as they worked toward a deal.”

Patrick declined comment on Walker’s view of the budget deal announced Wednesday.

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday blasted the budget deal as bad for Wisconsin. Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said the road projects that would be delayed under the deal would cost the state construction jobs.

Democrats also mocked Fitzgerald’s admission that he doesn’t have the votes to pass the budget.

Republicans hold a 19-14 advantage in the chamber. But two of them, Sens. Steve Nass and Duey Stroebel, have said they won’t vote for a budget if state prevailing wage laws aren’t at least partially repealed.

It’s unclear if such a repeal could pass the Senate. That would mean Senate Republicans couldn’t afford the defection of even one more member to pass a budget.

Fitzgerald said Wednesday that there are five or six senators who want a full repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law or else they would not support a budget, while three or four senators want something less than a repeal.

Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, called the budget deal imperfect. But she said she supports it anyway, “in the spirit of getting things done.”

“My goal is to find a consensus,” Lazich said. “We need to work day and night until we get there.”

State Journal reporter Molly Beck contributed to this report.

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