State DOT road budget proposal, State Journal photo, Beltline construction zone file photo (copy)

Traffic weaves through a construction zone on Verona Road near the Beltline Highway in Madison. 

M.P. KING — State Journal

As the Legislature's budget committee enters its fourth week without meeting, a group of more than 30 Republican lawmakers is asking legislative leaders to make sure transportation cuts are felt equally throughout the state. 

"Although tough decisions need to be made in order to budget responsibly, we ask that any resulting spending reductions be equitable and not disproportionately affect out-state areas," reads a letter signed by 33 of the Assembly's 63 Republican members.

The letter was sent on Monday to Gov. Scott Walker; Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester; and Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.

It's signed by three members of the Joint Finance Committee: Reps. Mary Czaja, R-Irma; Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton; and Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh. Thirty additional Republican representatives also signed.

There's a general consensus among Republican lawmakers that the level of bonding Walker proposed in his two-year budget — $1.3 billion — is unsustainable. But Republicans can't seem to agree on how to reduce the borrowing and temper its impact on road projects throughout the state. That, and a handful of other contentious issues — a proposal to publicly finance part of a new Milwaukee Bucks arena and a push to repeal the state's prevailing wage laws — have held up the Joint Finance Committee from meeting since May 29.

Any negotiations lawmakers make must be done with the knowledge that Walker will veto any gas tax hike or registration fee increase. With their hands tied, GOP leaders have suggested cutting the level of bonding by $800 million.

Last week, Darling told she believes her Assembly colleagues are trying to delay construction on the Zoo Interchange in the Milwaukee area as a means of pressuring the Senate to approve a hike in registration fees or the gas tax.

Vos and Nygren urged her to "walk back" her comments, which they called "false" and "disingenuous."

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They've both stressed the importance of making sure transportation projects throughout the state feel the effects of the cuts as equally as possible.

Darling told WisPolitics she's open to an $800 million cut in the governor's request, but she believes if the Zoo Interchange is impacted by that cut, it would jeopardize safety and the economy. 

"We want to be abundantly clear that the decision to make responsible budgeting choices should have a shared and equal impact statewide. The discussion of excluding the Southeast Megaprojects (including the Zoo Interchange) from any cuts of timeline delays would disproportionately affect our constituents and taxpayers outside of the Milwaukee area," the letter from rural and out-state Republicans reads.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.