Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he's confident the state will have a budget in place by mid-September, despite the fact that Senate Republicans don't yet have the votes to pass it.
Walker told reporters on a call from his trade mission to Japan and South Korea he still expects the budget will be signed by "the end of the summer" — in other words, by Sept. 22. The two-year spending plan is now more than two months overdue.
It's a budget "many people thought was impossible," the governor said, adding that it invests in K-12 education while lowering property taxes.
"I think this is a budget that people who want lower taxes can get behind, this is a budget people want more support, investment into K-12 education can get behind," Walker said. "I believe the majority of the Senate and Assembly will get behind it, ad I believe they'll do it before the end of the summer."
The state Assembly is set to vote on the $76 billion spending plan on Wednesday, where it is expected to pass after a lengthy debate.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Tuesday evening he is "hopeful" the Senate can do the same on Friday. But as of Wednesday, he didn't have the 17 votes needed to approve the legislation.
"There’s concerns about just about every part of the budget," Fitzgerald said of the holdouts.
A majority of those concerns are related, in one way or another, to the state's transportation budget, which has plagued lawmakers for months as they sought to strike an agreement within the Republican majority.
Joint Finance Committee member Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said in a press conference on Wednesday the transportation budget still relies too much on debt service and delaying projects that will cost more in the future.
"It's not just sticking it to taxpayers," Hintz said. "It's a failure of leadership."
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee approved a transportation package last week, but some Republican senators want to see changes.
One change would be to move up a proposed full repeal of the state's prevailing wage law to take effect Jan. 1. Under the plan approved by the budget-writing committee, it would take effect on Sept. 18, 2018.
Fitzgerald was reluctant to commit to changing that date, citing the need to give people time to prepare for changes.
But Walker said he has no problem a Jan. 1 start date.
"Something that's already bid out, you don’t want to change the terms — for anything that hasn’t bid out, I think you could do it as quickly as the time the budget is enacted," Walker said. "Why would we wait any longer than we have to to provide savings for the taxpayers which means more dollars for transportation?"
The Joint Finance Committee also voted last week on a series of tax cuts and changes, eliminating the state's alternative minimum tax and approving a list of tax breaks for business owners. Democrats on the committee accused the Republican majority of "giving tax breaks to millionaires" and "kicking working families while they're down."
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, referred to the budget as "Robin Hood in reverse" — taking money from the working and middle classes and giving it to the wealthy.
"The only thing this budget truly helps are campaign contributors to the Republican Party of Wisconsin," said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, a member of the Joint Finance Committee.
"I’m always looking for more tax relief," Walker said when asked if he is comfortable with those changes. "I thought, overall having income tax relief that helped the broadest group of people, working families in our state, was important, but I'll take tax relief any way I can get it."
Walker's proposed income tax cuts would have cost about $203 million, and saved most taxpayers $44 this year. His plan called for cutting rates for the two lowest brackets by one-tenth of a percentage point. The committee's co-chairs, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the proposal didn't deliver enough bang for the buck.
Instead, lawmakers opted to eliminate a portion of the personal property tax applying to machinery, tools and patterns not used for manufacturing. Under that plan, the state would make payments to local governments to replace the revenue lost from the tax — an estimated $74.4 million per year.
"The budget, even with the changes they made, still allows us to fulfill our goal of lower property taxes by the end of 2018," Walker said. "It allows us to achieve our goals, and we'll come back and even probably before the next budget continue to put more ideas on the table for how we can lower taxes."