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Republicans squabble over transportation funding talks (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, left, speaks during a news conference with Wisconsin Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, right, before a meeting of the Joint Finance Committee at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Republican leaders in the state Assembly are squabbling publicly with their Republican colleague in the Senate who is co-chair of the budget-writing committee. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren issued a joint statement Thursday, June 18, 2015 criticizing comments made by Republican Sen. Alberta Darling that were reported by wispolitics.com as being disingenuous. (Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, speaks during a news conference with Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, before a meeting of the Joint Finance Committee at the state Capitol in Madison on May 29. Republican leaders in the state Assembly are squabbling publicly with their Republican colleague in the Senate, who is co-chair of the budget-writing committee. (Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — In a highly unusual move Thursday, two Republican leaders in the state Assembly issued a press release calling a fellow Republican state senator “disingenuous” in comments she made about ongoing private budget negotiations.

The public airing of grievances from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren comes as the impasse over budget talks between Republican legislators and Gov. Scott Walker nears three weeks.

Since then Republicans have been meeting privately to work out the final remaining pieces of the two-year, $70 billion spending plan. One of the biggest areas of disagreement is how much to spend on roads and transportation projects.

Republican Sen. Alberta Darling said Wednesday that the negotiations are largely centered on whether an $800 million cut in road funding would be spread throughout the entire state, or targeted to certain projects while protecting others such as the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee.

She told the political website wispolitics.com on Wednesday that Assembly Republicans want to delay the Zoo Interchange to put pressure on the Senate to go along with a hike in the gas tax or registration fees.

That led to Vos, the highest ranking Assembly Republican, and Nygren issuing a news release Thursday coming just shy of calling Darling a liar. The budget-writing committee that Nygren and Darling co-chair has not met since May 29.

“To say that Assembly Republicans are now pressing for both of these revenue enhancers would be incorrect,” Vos and Nygren said. “In fact, Alberta Darling is being disingenuous in making that characterization.”

Darling stood by her comments, but did not directly address the points raised by Nygren and Vos related to their position on raising taxes and fees. Instead, she focused on their call to include delaying work on the Zoo Interchange as part of the way to handle the funding cut.

“Delaying the completion of the core of the Zoo Interchange could jeopardize safety (and) would harm our state’s economy,” Darling said in a statement. “I won’t let safety and our economy be used as bargaining chips.”

Vos had previously supported raising vehicle registration fees to help pay for transportation projects and reduce the $1.3 billion in borrowing Walker proposed. But Walker, who is expected to announce his presidential campaign within weeks, has refused to consider any tax or fee increases without a corresponding cut elsewhere.

Vos and Nygren said Thursday that given that opposition, they are no longer calling for a registration fee hike. Raising the gas tax was never an option, they said.

“We want to ensure that any transportation reductions are felt equally across the state,” Vos and Nygren said. “Under the Senate plan, outstate legislators would feel the brunt of the cuts and many in our caucus don’t feel that option is fair.”

Walker, who returned to Wisconsin on Wednesday from a six-day trade mission to Canada, said he didn’t think lawmakers should be “micromanaging” by deciding which projects would face delays or be protected with an $800 million reduction in funding.

Walker tweeted on Thursday that he was in the Capitol “reviewing changes to the state budget.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a member of the budget committee, said the Republican in-fighting was of no benefit.

“It does show an inability to govern, even though there are overwhelming GOP majorities in both houses,” he said.

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