It’s been almost one month since the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee hoped to finish its work on Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year budget, but a stalemate among state Republicans continues to stall its progress.
The budget committee had hoped to wrap things up before Memorial Day, but after weeks of marathon sessions, it hit a standstill. The committee hasn’t met since May 29. Republican gridlock over a handful of issues has led many to question whether the new budget will be signed by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Walker took to Twitter last week to indirectly address that speculation, noting that since 1969, only five budgets were signed before July 19.
Shortly after winning re-election in November 2014, Walker himself called for quick action on the budget. Gearing up for a presidential bid, the governor sought to present Wisconsin as an efficient alternative to the dysfunction of Washington.
Instead, this budget will take longer to complete than Walker’s first two budgets. The governor signed his last budget on June 30, 3013, and the one before that on June 26, 2011.
Both of those budgets were passed under one-party Republican control. And since 1969, every year the budget was signed before July 19 — mentioned in Walker’s tweet — was a year Wisconsin was under one-party control.
In 1977, Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature, and Democrat Patrick Lucey was governor. Democrats again controlled both the Senate and the Assembly in 1983, under Democratic Gov. Tony Earl.
And in 2009, under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Democrats again controlled the Legislature.
Since 1969, of the eight times one party has held control during a budget year, three budgets were passed on or after July 19: two under Democratic control and one under Republican majority.
Today, Republicans still head both the legislative and executive branches. But they’ve been unable to reach agreements on the state’s transportation budget, a proposal to publicly finance part of a new Milwaukee Bucks arena and a push to repeal the state’s prevailing wage laws — leaving the budget stalled.
The legislative infighting has spurred criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater — who has said he won’t vote for a budget that doesn’t include a full repeal of prevailing wage requirements for local governments — issued a statement June 22 calling for conservatives to “stand united,” accusing leadership of shutting out their rank-and-file counterparts.
“During the last few weeks, we have seen a broken budget process yield a stalemate between the governor and the leaders of both houses,” Nass said. “However, the rank-in-file (sic) members of the Legislature have been sidelined, while the special interests seem to be at the table behind closed doors, as is the case with the prevailing wage issue, the Bucks’ arena, and last minute pork barrel items being readied for insertion to the budget by the Joint Finance Committee. Enough is enough.”
A majority of Assembly Republicans sent a letter to party leadership last week, asking for a deal that will ensure any transportation cuts are felt equally throughout the state. Some lawmakers say Milwaukee area projects like the Zoo Interchange need to be excluded from delays, while rural and out-state legislators are concerned projects in their districts will be disproportionately affected as a result. Where most Republican lawmakers agree is that Gov. Walker’s proposed level of bonding, at $1.3 billion, is unsustainable.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, has asked for the transportation package to be taken out of the budget entirely, while some Republicans have argued for the same to be done with the Bucks arena proposal.
Throughout budget negotiations, Democrats have accused Walker of letting his presidential ambitions stand in the way of passing a good budget, frequently criticizing his out-of-state travels.
“We are bowing to the pressure of a guy on a boat in New Hampshire,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, during a budget debate that took place while Walker addressed the Belknap County GOP Sunset Dinner Cruise in New Hampshire.
As negotiations wage on, it grows increasingly likely Walker will announce his candidacy for president before he signs a budget.
When pushed to give a timeline for his presidential announcement, Walker has said for months that he won’t announce a decision about his intentions until after the budget is complete.
“We won’t do anything, we won’t make any public pronouncement one way or the other, until after the budget is signed,” Walker told reporters on May 7, the Associated Press reported.
But in Ripon two weeks ago, Walker’s comments to reporters took a turn from his previous promises of no action until after the budget is done.
“For us, my goal has always been to get through the end of the budget year which ends June 30. We’ll see after that. Sometime in July is a pretty good time,” he said.
It’s been rumored that Walker will announce in the Milwaukee area on July 13.
A spokeswoman for Walker said a budget deal could be reached within the next few weeks.
“As the Governor’s tweets highlight, Wisconsin’s budget process has typically extended well into the months of July and August and in several cases later than that. This budget is following and still ahead of the typical timeline and, as Governor Walker tweeted last week, he remains optimistic a budget deal will be reached within the next week or two,” Laurel Patrick wrote in an email. ￼
The budget committee had hoped to wrap things up before Memorial Day, but after weeks of marathon sessions, it hit a standstill.