By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The top state Senate Democrat said Wednesday that Republicans in control of state government “own” the problem of coming up with a way to pay for improving Wisconsin’s roads.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Jennifer Shilling said in an interview with The Associated Press that it’s not up to Democrats to come up with a plan to plug a projected $1 billion transportation budget shortfall. Republicans have been in complete control of the governor’s office and Legislature since 2011 and will return in 2017 with even larger majorities in the Senate and Assembly.
“Republicans own this,” Shilling said of the transportation problem. “They own this Legislature right now. I don’t think it’s up to the minority party to have all the answers.”
Democrats have proposed broadening the base of funding for transportation in the state, including raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Whether to even consider higher taxes and fees is dividing Republicans.
Assembly GOP leaders have said everything should be considered. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the highest profile advocated for considering tax and fee increases, distributed a briefing document to Republican lawmakers and reporters that was titled “No Easy Answers.”
That’s the message Democrats were delivering on the campaign trail, Shilling said.
“We can have a role in finding things that are acceptable,” she said. “Clearly Democrats can propose something but it’s the Republicans who are in control of the governor’s office and Senate and Assembly right now. And the Republicans are fighting right now. It’s like the right hand doesn’t agree with what the far right hand is wanting to do.”
Gov. Scott Walker has insisted he won’t raise taxes to pay for roads, unless there’s a corresponding cut someplace else. Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said he won’t pass a roads funding plan that Walker would veto, and two Republican senators earlier this week spoke out in opposition to raising taxes.
At a public hearing Tuesday, Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said the condition of Wisconsin’s roads will worsen over the next 10 years and projects will be delayed for decades without an increase in spending.
His department’s budget would borrow half a billion dollars over the next two years and save nearly half a billion more dollars by delaying work on major projects. Shilling said Democrats agree with some Republicans who are arguing that more borrowing is not the answer to paying for the state’s roads and other transportation needs.
Democrats return to the Senate with their smallest numbers since 1971. Republicans will have a 20-13 majority there and a 64-35 majority in the Assembly. That is their largest since 1957.