Sen. Jon Erpenbach listens as the Senate debates the right-to-work bill in the Senate Chambers in the State Capitol, in Madison, on Tuesday, February 24, 2015. photo by Michelle Stocker


State Sen. Jon Erpenbach credited Gov. Scott Walker with getting his budget proposal submitted early.

So who does the Democrat from Middleton fault for the budget process pushing through the July 1 start of the new fiscal year? Walker again. Erpenbach specifically points to the time the Republican governor has spent out of state prepping for a presidential run.

"The governor says I call and check in and stuff like that, but that doesn't replace actually being in the meeting when the Senate and the Assembly disagree," Erpenbach said in an interview broadcast Sunday on WKOW-TV's "Capitol City Sunday." "That's when the governor comes in, sits down with both sides and says, OK, where do we need to be on this and how do we get there?"

Erpenbach said the Republicans who control the Assembly and Senate should have had the budget done "a long time ago," and said that he doesn't think there are enough yes votes in the Senate yet as it prepares to take up the bill this week.

And if Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald needs Democratic votes, he's going to come across members frustrated by a lack of input in the process.

"If they want Democrats to help out on this, then obviously they have to help out Democrats," Erpenbach said. "Taking the Medicaid expansion, backfilling the cuts to the UW System, giving K-12 education more money, coming up with a solid plan for our roads heading into our future, not just trying to get us through the next week and a half. So yeah, that's upsetting. But at the same time, they can't expect us to say, OK, fine, we'll vote for it when we didn't have any say on anything in the first place. That's frustrating."

That frustration extends into discussions for state funding for a new Milwaukee arena, which was removed from the budget and will be considered separately.

Democrats from the Milwaukee area could be more likely to support a standalone arena bill instead of the full budget, but they have demanded a seat at the table and new negotiations.

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Erpenbach said he would like to see the state get a better deal than the one negotiated by Republican state leadership and Milwaukee officials with Bucks owners.

"Economically, it's good for the state in the long run, but I do think part of the problem that a lot of Democrats have is we cut UW — even though one doesn't have anything to do with the other. The priority was to cut the UW, get rid of scientists, scale back on stewardship, barely fund K-12 education, but at the same time we're going to go out and borrow to make sure that the Bucks stay in Wisconsin."

Erpenbach said he's hesitant to vote for state funding for the new arena considering the $80 million price tag that state taxpayers face.

"I'm looking at it this way: The owners are offering to pay $150 million, and I think that's great," he said. "But at the same time the Bucks get the naming rights of the new arena. And that on the low end is going to be $60 million, on the high end could be $100 million. So that $150 million that the Bucks owners are actually putting in, they're getting part of that back in the end. State taxpayers, we're going to be responsible for $80 million. There's a good chance that the Bucks owners will actually be paying less than the taxpayers will on this thing when originally the owners were going to be paying more than the state taxpayers. I've got concerns about that."

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.