Governor Walker says deal reached in principle to end budget impasse

Governor Scott Walker

MADISON, Wis. — A tentative agreement on Wisconsin’s late state budget would include about $400 million in new borrowing to pay for roads and impose a higher fee on electric vehicles but would not raise the gas tax or regular vehicle registration fees, people involved in the discussions said Tuesday.

Lawmakers were still negotiating other issues, including how much to loosen income eligibility levels to participate in the statewide private school voucher program, said Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee.

The state budget is seven weeks late, an embarrassment for Republicans who control the entire Legislature and governor’s office. Spending levels from the prior budget have continued during the impasse, easing the pressure on Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans to reach agreement. But the longer it’s delayed, the more impact not having a budget will have on school districts trying to set their budgets and road construction projects that need additional funding to proceed.

Walker and Nygren both said Tuesday that the framework of the budget deal would not increase gas taxes or vehicle registration fees, something the governor and Senate Republicans had pushed to achieve. Nygren said it would increase vehicle registration on electric vehicles about $100 a year, to compensate for them not paying the gas tax, but Walker said that item was still being negotiated.

The Senate wanted to eliminate the personal property tax, which is primarily paid by businesses on property they own. Nygren said the deal would reduce that tax by about $73 million a year, but not eliminate it.

Nygren said the budget would also get the core of the Zoo interchange project near Milwaukee completed.

He said the plan would include about $410 million borrowing for roads, which includes $250 million to rebuild Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois border. That money is included in a separate bill extending $3 billion in tax incentives to Foxconn Technology Group that the Assembly passed last week.

He said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scoot Fitzgerald were meeting again Tuesday to hammer out the details, including whether to loosen the income limits for the voucher program. Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman, Myranda Tanck, did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

“There’s a good likelihood we could come to an agreement yet this week,” Nygren said. Walker told reporters that a budget deal “in principle” had been in place for a week or two.

Nygren said he hoped to have the Joint Finance Committee meet next week to vote on the remaining education issues with transportation perhaps the week after that, with the full Legislature finishing the budget in mid-September. Walker laid out a similar timeline.

“We’ve made progress,” Nygren said. “I still believe that we’re leaving significant challenge in the next budget for transportation. In politics, you need willing partners and the Senate is not willing to look at revenues and the governor isn’t either so we live to fight another day.”