Majority of Assembly Republicans sign letter bucking Scott Walker on roads

Madison— Bucking GOP Gov. Scott Walker, a majority of Assembly Republicans told the likely presidential candidate Monday that they won’t let their outstate districts take the whole hit to save southeastern Wisconsin from cuts to state road funding.

The Wisconsin governor and some GOP senators are insisting on protecting themassive Zoo Interchange project in metropolitan Milwaukee from cuts or delays, but rural Republicans made clear Monday that they have the votes to hold up that plan in the Assembly.

A letter sent to Walker on Monday underlined how the stalemate in the state budget is continuing in Walker’s absence as he travels to California for two days in support of his undeclared run for president.

The Republicans control the 99-member Assembly with 63 lawmakers, and the letter to Walker by Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma) was signed by 33 of them.

Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion for transportation over the next two years, but GOP lawmakers have said that’s too high. They are negotiating among themselves over reducing bonding by as much as $800 million, which in turn is leading to debate over which road and bridge projects ought to be delayed.

Czaja, who sits on the powerful Joint Finance Committee, and her colleagues wrote that they support making cuts to hold down borrowing but “cannot allow” them to fall solely on their districts.

“We want to be abundantly clear that the decision to make responsible budgeting choices should have a shared and equal impact statewide. The discussion of excluding the Southeast Megaprojects (including the Zoo Interchange) from any cuts or timeline delays would disproportionately affect our constituents and taxpayers outside of the Milwaukee area,” the GOP lawmakers said in their statement.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the governor could accept cuts to his proposed borrowing but that lawmakers should leave it to his administration to figure out how to implement the cuts.

“Lawmakers should consider the amount of bonding to include in the budget and leave decisions impacting individual projects across the state to the Department of Transportation in order to ensure decisions are made first and foremost on safety, as well as criteria that considers the economic impact,” Patrick said.

Assembly Republicans want to cut borrowing for major projects around the state by $400 million and slash the Zoo Interchange and other megaprojects in southeast Wisconsin by the same amount.

But Senate GOP leaders including Joint Finance Committee co-chair Alberta Darling of River Hills are objecting. They say the bulk of the Zoo Interchange reconstruction must remain on schedule because it is the busiest interchange in the state, and the massive project is already well underway.

The Zoo Interchange sits at the junction of Interstates 94 and 894 and Highway 45 west of Milwaukee.

“If we put a two-year delay (on the Zoo Interchange), that would be a disaster,” Darling said this month.

Republican lawmakers are united in wanting to reduce Walker’s proposed borrowing but differ on the means.

In general, outstate Republicans are more open to the idea of taking steps to raise revenues such increasing vehicle registration fees for car owners.

GOP lawmakers in conservative southeastern Wisconsin districts are more likely to oppose any increase in taxes or fees. At the same time, southeastern Wisconsin Republicans also want to avoid any delay in the Zoo Interchange.

Some outstate Republicans object to those two positions when combined, saying that together they guarantee a bad deal for other parts of the state.

The list of Assembly Republicans in Monday’s letter doesn’t reflect every member of that caucus who favors including southeastern Wisconsin in the cuts. That’s also the position of the top leaders in the Assembly, including Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Joint Finance co-chairman Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette). Besides Walker, the letter was also sent to them, Darling and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Vos and Fitzgerald were expected to meet late Monday on the budget along with other lawmakers. They’re hung up on several issues besides transportation funding, including changes to the state’s prevailing wage law and public financing for a $500 million arena proposed for the Milwaukee Bucks.

It’s unclear how quickly Republicans may be able to reach an agreement to get the budget bill restarted.

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