Wisconsin Budget (copy)

Joint Finance Committee leaders Sen. Alberta Darling, left, and Rep. John Nygren, middle, talk with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, right.

PHOTO BY SCOTT BAUER

Wisconsin's budget committee remains at a standstill and won't meet on Wednesday, as previously suggested.

Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee criticized their Republican colleagues for the intra-party gridlock that's kept the lawmakers from meeting for two weeks, while Republican leaders held a second day of private meetings to try to break the stalemate. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said GOP leaders will "tentatively" resume their meetings again tomorrow to reach an agreement on the state's transportation budget and a proposal to publicly finance a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

"This complete stalemate on the budget, weeks after the Joint Finance Committee was supposed to have adjourned, is nothing short of a complete inability to govern," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, in a statement. "Wisconsinites are still reacting to the selling out of our schools, universities, natural resources, and health care support nets. We know that Republicans have already promised to eliminate taxes for the wealthiest in the state, but it looks like things are about to get a lot worse."

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, was critical of negotiations taking place "behind closed doors," suggesting they would result in favors for special interest groups. 

"The majority had no problem burning down the house on the most important state programs like funding for public school classrooms and the UW System, but is more than willing to put the budget process at a complete standstill as they fight over backroom deals," said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.

Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, had said last week it looked like the committee's meetings would resume on Wednesday of this week.

But by Tuesday afternoon, no deals had been reached on transportation or the Bucks arena. 

Asked whether the Joint Finance Committee will meet at all this week or next, Vos said, "I think it's possible." 

Republicans have balked at Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for road projects, but haven't been able to reach an agreement on how much borrowing is acceptable. Walker has said raising registration fees or the gas tax are both out of the question.

Vos said no agreement was made between him and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, but that they were working from a "general framework" that they might cut the level of bonding by $800 million, down to $500 million.

"Having Wisconsin's entire transportation system be dependent on increases in bonding is not sustainable in the long run," Vos said.

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In the meantime, some Republican lawmakers are asking for the Bucks proposal to be taken out of the budget and debated separately. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, has asked for the same to be done with transportation funding.

GOP leaders are still finalizing a draft of the arena proposal to be released to legislators and the public, Vos said, adding that he thinks a majority in his caucus supports the proposal "to some extent."

"I don’t expect to ask anybody for a vote until they have a document they can see," he said.

Once Joint Finance wraps up its work, the budget will make its way through the Assembly and Senate before it reaches the governor's desk. Walker can make changes with a line-item veto.

The new fiscal year begins on July 1, but if a budget isn't passed by then, the state will continue to operate under the old one.

Asked whether July 1 is still a realistic deadline, Vos said, "Yeah, I think so."

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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.