Walker says progress is being made on Wisconsin budget

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that he remains confident that progress was being made on reaching a budget deal with his fellow Republicans, even as Assembly leaders forged ahead with alternative roads, education and tax plans opposed by the Senate.

As the stalemate entered its second week, the Legislature's budget-writing committee canceled a planned Thursday meeting and Walker met privately with legislative leaders.

Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly have been unable to strike a deal on a budget to replace the current one that runs through June 30. Walker has been urging lawmakers to "get it done," even though government would not shut down on July 1. Instead, spending would continue at its current levels.

Walker said he remains confident that all sides weren't far apart, that progress was being made and a deal could be reached close to July 1.

"We're debating about how much more to put in schools, we're debating about how much lower to lower property taxes, we're debating about how far we can go to have more in the transportation system and whether or not it requires additional revenues," Walker told reporters. "It's not a night and day difference out there, it's really a question of where we are on the spectrum."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who on Tuesday said he would negotiate the budget "any time, any place, anywhere," did not attend the Wednesday meeting in Walker's Capitol office. Vos's spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, said he was in Washington, D.C., for a presentation. Instead, Walker met with Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Steineke told reporters after his meeting with Walker that he was hopeful budget negotiations would resume next week and the proposal would pass close to July 1.

They key areas of disagreement are K-12 school funding, how to pay for roads and what to do with taxes. Assembly Republicans unveiled their own education plan on Tuesday and began holding news conferences across the state to tout their approach on Wednesday. Vos said he wanted time to explain the proposal to voters, and fellow Republicans, and didn't feel pressure to pass a budget by July 1.

But Walker and Fitzgerald rejected the Assembly plan, which would spend about $70 million less on schools than the $649 million Walker proposed. Fitzgerald has threatened to have the Senate take the unprecedented move of passing its own budget — something that's never happened when the same party has controlled both houses of the Legislature.

Walker said he is committed to his original plan on education, taxes and transportation. He said he remains open to toll roads, but because that requires federal approval they couldn't help with this budget. Any toll roads would have to be limited to the state's borders to primarily effect people traveling from outside Wisconsin, he said. Walker said he'd also want to cut the gas tax, but it wouldn't have to go down by as much as the new toll roads would bring in, he said.

The Joint Finance Committee hasn't met for a week. Fitzgerald said Monday that if it didn't meet on Thursday, as originally hoped, "we're in a rougher spot than I thought we were."

Committee co-chairs said Wednesday that there would be no such meeting Thursday. Fitzgerald didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Two years ago, when the Legislature was also controlled by Republicans, the Joint Finance Committee took a five-week break before passing the budget on July 3.

Walker has repeatedly said there's still time to reach a deal and he's optimistic that it will get done close to July 1.