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State’s budget battle enters voting stage

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

FILE - In a Wednesday, March 8, 2017 file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at a news conference, in Madison, Wisc. Walker says he wants to see the cost of the House Republican bill to overhaul the federal health care law to see how it would affect Wisconsin. The Legislature's budget-writing committee will come together Monday, May 1, 2017,  to begin voting on the two-year spending plan.(AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks at a news conference in Madison on March 8. Walker says he doesn’t want any vehicle fees or gas taxes to pay for a $1 billion shortfall in roads funding in the budget. (AP File Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — With a solution to road funding still elusive, the Legislature’s budget-writing committee will come together Monday to begin voting on the two-year spending plan.

The meeting marks yet another phase in the drawn-out, sometimes tortuous process of passing a $76 billion spending plan. Gov. Scott Walker introduced it on a freezing February day in Madison.

Three months later, with tulips in bloom around the Capitol grounds, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is reconvening to start making changes to the budget.

So what’s changed since the day they got their first look at the plan?

Not much.

Wariness about several key planks of Walker’s proposal continues to divide Republican legislative leaders in May, just as it did in February.

No agreement is in sight on how to plug a projected $1 billion shortfall in roads funding, although there are positive signs. Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have both said they’re open to spending more money on roads from the state’s main account. But proponents of a long-term funding solution, including Assembly Republican leaders, are still pushing for tax and fee increases to replace some of the half-billion in borrowing Walker proposed.

Democrats say they’re willing to work on a bipartisan solution, but they favor allowing the gas tax to increase along with inflation.

Walker has promised to veto a gas tax and says he also doesn’t want any vehicle registration fee increases.

The key question, said Republican budget committee member Sen. Luther Olsen, is how sustainable the solution will be.

“Do you solve it for the long run or do you do a Band-Aid approach?” Olsen said. “I’m getting out my Band-Aids.

— SELF-INSURANCE: Walker proposed moving state workers to a self-insurance model, rather than having the state contract with HMOs to provide coverage. Budget committee members have questioned the wisdom of that and whether it would save the $60 million Walker estimated. “As of now, I don’t think there’s enough votes to pass it,” Olsen said.

— NEW NUMBERS: A revised forecast of how much tax revenue will be available to spend in the budget is expected in early May. That could make it a lot harder — or easier — to write the budget. Democratic Rep. Gordon Hintz said he thinks Republican lawmakers are anxious to put their stamp on the spending plan. Walker’s initial proposal was more of a campaign re-election document than a budget, Hintz said. With Walker looking for good news to run on next year, and the Legislature having other priorities, Hintz said, “It will be interesting to see where the divergence is.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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