- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

PORTAGE, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday he would be “pleased” if a repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law were a part of the state budget, but he’d also be satisfied with significant changes to the requirement setting construction wages for public works jobs.

Walker commented as the Legislature’s budget-writing committee hoped to complete work on the two-year spending plan on Friday, despite not having agreement on how to pay for highway and state road projects, a financing deal for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena or whether to repeal the prevailing wage.

The Joint Finance Committee was also scheduled to vote Friday on whether to go along with Walker’s proposals to cut the University of Wisconsin System by $300 million, freezing purchases under the popular stewardship land preservation program and cutting 66 positions from the Department of Natural Resources.

Without agreements on the Bucks stadium or transportation funding, the committee’s work may go into the weekend or next week.

One unresolved issue is what the panel will do with the state’s 84-year-old prevailing wage law, which requires workers on certain public projects to be paid a certain wage based on a complex formula that critics say inflates their pay because of an over-reliance on union salaries.

Construction workers support the law, saying it allows them to earn fair wages, while opponents say doing away with it would allow government to save money.

Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly have been working on changing the law, without repealing it, because they say there aren’t enough votes to do that. But an Assembly committee on Wednesday approved a bill to repeal the law in the hopes that it may be included in the budget.

The state Department of Revenue has said the effect of repealing the law is difficult to estimate and could not put a number on potential savings.

Walker said he would sign a full repeal into law, and on Thursday said he also hoped the repeal would be included in the $70 billion state budget.

“Certainly I would be pleased if it was in,” Walker told reporters following a business groundbreaking in Portage. “The question is how far we go.”

Walker sidestepped a question about whether he would support delaying work on some highway projects, like the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee, in order to lower the $1.3 billion in borrowing he originally proposed to pay for that and other roadwork across the state.

Walker noted that his proposal would keep those projects on schedule. And he reiterated his opposition to raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees without a correlating cut in other taxes.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said on Wednesday that he preferred a mixture of borrowing, slowing down of highway projects to save money and an increase in fees. Other lawmakers have also expressed support for raising vehicle registration fees.

Walker declined to say whether he would veto a pair of additions to the budget made by the committee that were not in his original plan. One would allow anyone with a bachelor’s degree, and some without, to be licensed to teach. Another would put new limits on how taxes collected on hotel rooms can be spent.

Once the budget committee completes its work, the spending plan goes to the Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly for votes in June. Changes can be made by the Legislature, and Walker has expansive line-item veto authority to reshape it again before he signs it.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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