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Senate Republicans working to lower road borrowing (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin state Senate were working Tuesday on a transportation plan that would borrow less but still not raise taxes as they try to strike a deal to end a nearly two-week-old budget impasse.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said before the closed-door meeting that Republicans were “whittling down” the amount of borrowing from the $750 million they had discussed last week. How much to borrow, and whether to raise gas taxes or other vehicle fees to plug a nearly $1 billion road-funding gap, has been the biggest impediment to reaching a deal.

Assembly Republicans have balked at borrowing $500 million, as Gov. Scott Walker had originally proposed. They have insisted on raising revenues, possibly through a gas tax increase or higher vehicle fees, to provide a long-term means of paying for roads.

The Senate initially said it wanted to borrow $850 million, but last week Fitzgerald said the proposed amount was down to $750 million.

“We’re whittling that down, it may even be less than that,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday, declining to say how much less.

Fitzgerald, Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos were scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the budget. They had not met last week, as Walker put forward his own proposal to reach a deal that could rely on asking for $341 million from the federal government while also cutting borrowing by $200 million.

Walker and Vos did not immediately reply to requests for comment Tuesday.

Wisconsin, along with Rhode Island and Connecticut, is the only state with a July 1 deadline for passing a budget that has yet to meet that goal. The funding of Wisconsin state government priorities, like prisons, Medicaid, the University of Wisconsin and K-12 schools, will continue at its current level until a new budget is signed into law.

Fitzgerald said he hopes to continue negotiating with Assembly Republicans and not take the unprecedented step of having the Senate pass its own spending plan. But he also said there’s little left for Senate Republicans to discuss.

“I know after next week it’s going to be hard to maintain the illusion that the Senate caucus is in the room trying to develop further strategies because we’re running out of things to do,” Fitzgerald said.

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