Following news that Wisconsin will see no additional revenue growth in the next two years, Republican leaders in the state Legislature said their top priority is to restore a $127 million cut to K-12 education proposed in Gov. Scott Walker's biennial budget.
They said it's "too early to tell" whether, and by how much, they'll be able to lessen a $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System also proposed in the governor's budget.
"I'm not going to be the one to slam the door on it, I'm just saying it becomes more and more difficult, obviously, with the lower revenue estimates" said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, when asked about addressing the UW cut.
A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, released Wednesday, means no adjustments will be made to January revenue estimates, and lawmakers will have no additional funds as they work through revisions to Walker's two-year budget.
Republican lawmakers had hoped to use new revenue growth to cover the proposed cut to K-12 schools and to lessen the proposed cut to the UW.
In a memo to the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, LFB director Bob Lang wrote that 2014-15 tax collections may exceed previous projections. However, he added, national economic forecasts have been downgraded since the agency last calculated revenue projections in January.
Any additional revenue in the current fiscal year will likely be offset by reduced growth in 2015-16 and 2016-17, Lang wrote.
Democrats were quick to place the blame for the numbers on policies enacted by the state's GOP majority and on Walker's presidential ambitions.
But Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, said the LFB figures aren't bad news.
"I would point out that meeting our expectations is actually a good thing," Nygren said, adding that some states are falling short of their revenue expectations. "I think that goes to show the decisions we made in the past were sound."
Regarding the Republicans' legislative priorities going forward, nothing changes, Nygren said, adding that lawmakers will work to fully restore the proposed K-12 cuts.
"The bottom line is that education is still our priority, and you'll continue to see us focusing on that as we go throughout the budgeting process," Nygren said.
Republican leaders said there are not plans to touch Walker's property tax cuts. The funding for schools will come from two places, Nygren said: savings in the general fund already accumulated by the JFC through the budgeting process and by making a single payment instead of a proposed double payment to a school levy credit. Making the single payment will free up about $106 million, Nygren said.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, accused Republicans of using "accounting tricks" to shore up education funding.
Regarding the UW cut, Vos said when Assembly Republicans said they hoped to lessen it, "much of it was predicated on the fact that we believed there would be additional revenue based on past practices."
UW funding, Medicaid and transportation are all areas that will have to be addressed, Vos said.
Both Vos and Fitzgerald indicated they would be open to increasing registration fees to fund transportation costs, but they both voiced opposition to a gas tax hike.
Asked about long-term care programs and SeniorCare, Nygren said it's the goal of Republicans to ensure the citizens served by those programs continue to receive the level of services they have come to expect.