Wisconsin GOP Senate leader sends mixed budget signals

Wisconsin State Capitol (WLUK/Courtney Ryan)

MADISON (AP) -- The Republican leader of the Wisconsin state Senate sent mixed signals Friday about how close lawmakers are to reaching a budget deal and ending a three-week stalemate on passing a new spending plan.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, appearing on the regionally syndicated conservative talk radio program "The Jerry Bader Show," blasted fellow Republicans in the Assembly for their position on the key area of disagreement about how to pay for roads. However, then he said he didn't think the two sides were that far apart.

Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans in the Senate and Assembly have been unable to come together on a two-year spending plan that was due on July 1. Current spending levels continue during the standoff, but road projects could start to face delays if a new budget isn't enacted in August.

How to pay for roads has been one of the biggest sticking points. On Thursday, Assembly Republicans accepted Walker's latest offer to use $200 million originally slated to cut income taxes and instead lower how much is borrowed for roads.

Taking that step, along with relying on increased funding from the federal government, would nearly eliminate all new borrowing for roads over the next two years, Walker said.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, also appearing Friday on WTAQ, urged the Senate to accept what he called a "good deal" and finish work on the budget.

"I'm wondering why the Senate is taking so long to embrace this," Steineke said. "We're at a loss. If this doesn't get us back to the negotiation table, I don't know what will."

Fitzgerald, who appeared on Bader's show an hour later, said characterizing Walker's offer as a deal was an "illusion." He also questioned whether Walker's proposal would do away with nearly all borrowing for roads as the governor claimed.

"That's all sleight of hand," Fitzgerald said. "There's nothing there."

Fitzgerald reiterated that senators want to reduce or eliminate the personal property tax, which they had proposed doing using money Walker now wants to target to lower road borrowing. Still, despite the differences, Fitzgerald expressed optimism the budget could be wrapped up soon.

"I don't want to suggest that we aren't fairly close because I think we are," Fitzgerald said. "I feel pretty good about where we're at."

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