Republican lawmakers at an impasse with governor over transportation funding

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, speaks during a news conference May 29 with Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, before a meeting of the Joint Finance Committee.

WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL FILE

What happens if legislators fail to write a new state budget before Wednesday’s deadline?

Answer: Not much. State spending will continue at the same rate as it is now.

“No one in our state knows the difference between June 30 and July 1,” said Legislative Fiscal Bureau director Bob Lang.

The 2013-15 budget expires on Tuesday, but as they write a spending plan for the next two years, lawmakers are struggling to find common ground on transportation funding and a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. Another sticking point has been whether to rewrite or repeal the state’s prevailing wage laws. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos planned an announcement Monday on his plan for prevailing wage.

The impasse has put probable 2016 GOP presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker on the defensive over how much time he’s put into getting a budget deal in a Republican-controlled Legislature.

If Congress, or lawmakers in states including Minnesota and Illinois, don’t pass a budget by their deadlines, government agencies could be shut down and public services curtailed.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed that state’s entire 2016 budget on Thursday with the exception for education funding to ensure schools can reopen later this summer, while budget negotiations continue past deadline. If Illinois lawmakers don’t pass a budget by Wednesday, some state worker paychecks won’t be issued because the state needs a budget to legally spend money.

But in Wisconsin, the last year’s appropriations continue until a new budget is passed.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee hasn’t met since May 29, and no future meeting has been scheduled as talks continue.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, who is on that committee, said new programs created in the budget won’t start Wednesday, but otherwise, nothing else is affected.

Walker has made the case that he’s a governor who gets things done. But the budget impasse with a Legislature controlled by his own party has prompted a flurry of national media attention focused on his effectiveness in budget negotiations.

In response, Walker has emphasized in recent days that a budget not passing on time doesn’t harm the state fiscally.

At a bill signing last Wednesday, Walker blamed news reporters and opponents for creating a “hysteria” around the budget impasse and said he believed a framework of a budget would be released in a couple of days.

However, Vos, R-Rochester, said the governor was more optimistic than he was about the chance of that happening.

Since 1977, nine budgets were passed by lawmakers on or before July 1, according to the fiscal bureau.

Otherwise, six budgets were passed in July, one in September, two in October and two in November. The latest a new budget has been put into effect was on Dec. 20 in 1995.

Local governments aren’t expecting a lump sum of money on Wednesday, said Lang, and if a budget is passed later than the deadline, then the periodic payments agencies receive throughout a budget cycle are adjusted at that time.

Olsen said public schools could have been affected if general funding levels were different than last year’s budget, but they are likely to be held flat.

However, the Department of Public Instruction is required to release estimates of general funding levels for school districts on July 1.

Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said in a blog post that coming up with a July 1 estimate “will be a bit trickier this year, given that a new 2015-17 state budget now appears unlikely to be passed by July 1, when the 2015-16 fiscal year begins.”

He said while general funding levels aren’t changing much, DPI will have to make assumptions regarding proposals in the budget bill that isn’t yet passed and how they could affect 2015-16 aids to schools.

Proposals like the expansion of the statewide voucher program, which will draw from the general school aid funding for the first time, and an expansion of independent charter schools, which also are funded similarly, would affect funding levels, he said.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.