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Majority of Assembly Republicans push for equal road cuts (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Thirty-three of 63 Assembly Republicans sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker and Senate GOP leaders on Monday saying they will not support cuts in transportation funding that aren’t spread out equally across the state, highlighting the struggle to reach a budget deal and break a nearly monthlong impasse.

The fight over transportation funding, and how to distribute an $800 million cut, is one of the largest issues hanging up completion of the two-year state budget in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers have been gathering privately for weeks, and held another closed-door meeting Monday, to try to reach a deal to get the budget out of committee and to the Senate and Assembly for votes.

The current budget year ends on June 30, but the government won’t shut down if a new spending plan isn’t enacted by then. Instead, the current budget would continue until a new one is enacted.

Senate Republican leaders have differed from their colleagues in the Assembly on the issue of transportation funding. While both sides agreed that Walker’s proposal to borrow $1.3 billion to pay for roads was too much, they disagree on how an $800 million reduction in bonding should be distributed.

Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the budget committee, said last week she wants to protect the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee currently slated to be done in 2018 from any delays caused by a reduction in funding.

But Assembly Republicans, including the 33 who signed Monday’s letter, have said cuts should be distributed equally so more rural parts of the state aren’t disproportionately affected if urban projects are spared.

“As you know, safe and reliable transportation infrastructure is critical for commerce and safety across Wisconsin,” the Republicans, including three members of the budget committee, said in the letter. “We cannot allow a singular focus on Milwaukee to bring detrimental effects to industry, tourism, and ultimately to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.”

Walker said last week that the Legislature shouldn’t “micromanage” and dictate which projects are subject to delays and which aren’t. His spokeswoman Laurel Patrick reiterated that Monday after receiving the letter from the governor’s fellow Republicans.

The Legislature should “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.

In addition to squabbling over transportation funding, Republican lawmakers are also hung up on whether to include a $500 million financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena in the budget and address possible changes to the state’s prevailing wage law. That law, which some Republicans want to repeal in order to vote for the budget, requires construction workers to be paid a certain minimum salary on some public works projects.

The budget committee has not met since May 29.

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, a Republican member of the budget committee, said during a break in Monday’s closed-door meeting that progress was being made. Kooyenga said he was optimistic that a deal would be reached soon and it was “possible” the budget committee would meet this week.

Walker had said for months he wouldn’t announce his expected presidential campaign until after he signed the budget, but last week as the impasse continued Walker hedged on that timeline in advance of an expected announcement in mid-July.

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