Walker tax cut, Lincoln Hills closure plan in jeopardy

MADISON — Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald threw cold water on a couple of Gov. Scott Walker's top priorities Friday, saying he was cut out of negotiations between the governor and Assembly on a tax cut deal and juvenile justice overhaul.

Fitzgerald told The Associated Press that both proposals, which passed the Assembly this week, will have serious problems getting through the Senate with no changes. The Assembly has adjourned for the year and Speaker Robin Vos reiterated to the AP on Friday that the chamber has no intention of coming back.

"If the Senate doesn't want to pass the tax cut, they can kill it and take the blame," Vos said.

The Assembly passed dozens of bills this week before quitting early Friday morning. That means anything that still needs Senate approval has to pass as is to become law.

Several major pieces of Walker's agenda that he hopes to run for re-election on this year got through the Assembly this week. That includes a $100 per-child tax credit and sales tax holiday, a plan to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison and overhaul the juvenile justice system, $350 million for a new adult prison, $4 million for more prosecutors and an incentive package to persuade Kimberly-Clark not to shed 600 jobs in northeastern Wisconsin.

Fitzgerald didn't commit to any of those passing the Senate unchanged and said he "absolutely" felt like he was cut out of negotiations between Vos and Walker.

"They continue to cut deals between the governor and Assembly and I don't know why they think that will result in bills becoming law," he said.

Tensions among Vos, Fitzgerald and Walker date back to last year's protracted budget negotiations that resulted in the spending plan passing two months late.

Vos said he's worked with individual senators — including Sen. Van Wanggaard on the Lincoln Hills plan — who could then work with Fitzgerald to get bills passed. He said there was no conscious decision to leave Fitzgerald out of the process.

"I have learned negotiating with the Senate sometimes is like getting Jell-O to mold," Vos said.

The Lincoln Hills bill was written by a bipartisan group of lawmakers who met with Walker to talk about it earlier this week. Walker told reporters he would sign the bill in the version it passed the Assembly.

Under the bill, Lincoln Hills would close by 2021, the most serious juvenile offenders would be housed in state-run prisons and counties would be in charge of the rest. It includes $80 million to pay for construction of new facilities as needed.

"I have a ton of questions," Fitzgerald said of that plan. "We weren't involved in the process at all. I wasn't invited to any meetings. I have a ton of concerns."

He said the new system could be "completely unraveled" by a lawsuit.

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who understands what they're doing," Fitzgerald said. "It deserves a lot more scrutiny than it's received."

Vos said he still thinks there's time for the Senate to review and accept what the Assembly passed with no changes. The Senate plans to return for a final day in session on March 20.

But Fitzgerald said between now and then Senate committees will be meeting and he assumes they will be working on changes to the tax cut proposal, Lincoln Hills plan and other bills approved by the Assembly.

"I can't believe they wouldn't come back and take some of the changes from the Senate," he said.