MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee won’t meet this week as lawmakers continue wrestling over which road projects would be affected by a funding cut of as much as $800 million, Sen. Alberta Darling told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The ongoing talks among Republican legislative leaders are focused on whether the Zoo Interchange construction project in Milwaukee would be delayed or scaled back due to such a cut, she said.
Talks over how much to spend on transportation have been central to the impasse that’s stalled progress on the budget since May 29. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has steadfastly refused to consider any gas or fee increase without a correlating cut in taxes.
Walker reiterated that position Wednesday during a conference call from Canada, where he is wrapping up a six-day trade mission. He urged Republican legislators to focus on how much they are comfortable spending on roads and leave it up to his Department of Transportation to decide what the impact will be.
Walker in February proposed issuing $1.3 billion in bonds for roads. Republicans said that was too high, and are now talking about reducing borrowing by $800 million, although an exact figure has not been determined.
Darling said Assembly Republicans want to spread out an $800 million reduction in funding for roads across all projects statewide, while Senate Republicans have a different approach that would protect the Zoo Interchange.
The interchange, named after its proximity to the Milwaukee County Zoo, forms the junction of Interstate 94, I-894 and U.S. 45. The redesign of the interchange began in 2013 and is expected to cost $1.7 billion by the time it’s done in 2018, if it remains on track.
Walker said the Legislature should not “micromanage” how the cut would be handled, and instead leave that to state Department of Transportation officials.
“We’re better off saying what the total dollar amount is that the Legislature’s going to give the Department of Transportation to use and then allow considerations to be based on safety first,” Walker said.
Other considerations for delaying projects, including economic impact, would also be part of the mix, Walker said.
Walker’s DOT created a memo in March detailing how it would handle a $500 million cut, including freezing the I-39/90 project for two years, trimming by 36 percent the funding for the state’s major building program for most highway projects and remove nearly 450 miles of road projects slated for repaving and other reconstruction work.
Under that scenario, the Zoo Interchange would not be affected.
Darling also said that she suspects the $500 million financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena will not be considered as part of the budget. Backers of the plan wanted it taken up with the budget, rather than put forward as a separate bill, because breaking it out will likely delay and complicate its passage.
Walker said he is optimistic that the Legislature can reach a deal by the end of the week that would get the budget out of committee and to the Senate and Assembly for debate.
Walker has said he won’t announce his plans for a 2016 presidential run until after he signs the budget.
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