As the Budget Turns…

No one knows for sure when legislators will finish work on the state budget, but as of today their public statements reveal that they are still at odds. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has not met since late May and there has not been any official notice of future JFC meetings.

A few key sticking points, including transportation funding, the Milwaukee Bucks arena funding and prevailing wage reform, have held the spotlight as the issues of contention between both houses and the Governor. There are a number of other issues that are still pending that likely do not have agreement and will surface in the “999” wrap-up motion at the end of the process. 

After pressure from Governor Walker to not include any revenue increases to the transportation budget, legislators have settled on reducing $1.3 bonding level and cutting projects. Thus, a backdrop has emerged to the budget debate between the two houses, which has reignited an old division that pits Milwaukee versus the rest of the state.

As it relates to transportation projects, the Assembly GOP has staked out its turf arguing that given the heavy cuts, the Milwaukee Zoo Interchange should not take priority over the rest of projects in the state. Rather, they argue, cuts should be distributed across the board with the entire state sharing in the pain. Senate Republicans (and the governor) argue that the Milwaukee Zoo Interchange is too far along and too important to the overall state economy that it does not make sense to delay the project for the notion of shared pain. In addition to the transportation cuts, a package that was rolled out aimed at helping to finance an arena for the Milwaukee Bucks has been received unenthusiastically by outstate legislators who don’t want to use state bonding to finance an NBA team.

Budget tension and delay is nothing new in Wisconsin, and in reality, the legislators are not feeling significant pressure from their constituents to finish, which has the potential to continue the delay. Without any pressure, no one feels compelled to come to the table. While many legislative pursuits are uncertain, there are not many real world ramifications of a delayed budget… yet.

Some speculate that the deal will be wrapped and voted on at the end of next week, right before the Fourth of July weekend. Those practicing politics would see this as a move to have as little publicity as possible surrounding the final product as the public is focused on cookouts and not cooked deals. It also means legislators can go back to their districts and ride in parades while touting progress instead of gridlock.

One pressure point that has emerged relates to Governor Walker’s presidential announcement. Initially he was waiting for the budget process to be completed, but the ground seems to be shifting on that early declaration. If the governor feels compelled to wait until budget completion before he announces his candidacy, he may get much more active in helping find solutions to the stalemate.