MADISON -- A top Assembly Republican on Wednesday, February 15th, said lawmakers were unclear what Gov. Scott Walker's road funding proposal would be this month, even though Walker telegraphed his plans in the fall.
Walker's budget would delay major projects and borrow $500 million to plug a $1 billion shortfall in the state's road fund. It's the only road plan currently proposed, and Majority Leader Jim Steineke said a competing plan from Assembly Republicans wouldn't be available for another four to five weeks.
"We absolutely didn’t know what the governor was going to introduce," said Steineke, R-Kaukauna. 'We still had hopes that he would introduce something that would fix transportation long-term."
Walker first announced his plans to delay major interstate projects and borrow money in mid-September -- six months before Steineke said the Assembly GOP's plan would be available.
Walker's budget abandons the Interstate 94 East-West project near Miller Park and delays other Milwaukee-area freeway roadwork. The governor said his priorities were outstate projects and increased funding for local maintenance, including pothole patching and bridge repairs.
Assembly Republicans have long said they would consider a gas tax or vehicle registration fee increase to pay for more road projects. Walker has previously said that he would veto such a tax or fee increase.
"Vetoes are a little early to be talking about seeing as though it’s been a week since the budget’s out," Walker told reporters Wednesday. "But we’re obviously serious about that (being opposed to a tax increase)."
On Tuesday, eight rural Wisconsin lawmakers would not say if they supported a gas tax increase for roads. Without them -- and other lawmakers who have previously told FOX6 they wouldn't support a tax hike -- any tax proposal from Assembly Republican leaders would be in jeopardy.
During a news conference about rural issues, state Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, appeared willing to discuss only certain legislative topics. The gas tax wasn't among them.
"Is there any other questions that involve the actual rural Wisconsin initiative?" Quinn said, visibly frustrated at a reporter's questions about the gas tax.
Democrats said the rank-and-file Republicans' silence shows they are at odds with GOP leaders.
"The fact that not one of them was willing to speak up at all speaks volumes about where they might be at this juncture," said Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.
Steineke and other Assembly GOP officials haven't yet said how they'll find the additional money they want for road projects. He criticized the media for creating a story.
"This whole talk about a specific gas tax increase — this is all driven by the media. This is not driven by us," Steineke said. "We don't even have a plan yet."
Steineke said the Assembly GOP caucus has only talked about "broad aspects" of a road funding plan.
Walker and the Assembly GOP leadership have aired their disagreements publicly since the fall, when Walker announced his plans to delay projects and borrow money for roads.
On Wednesday, Walker repeated his position.
"I do not believe we should raise the gas tax nor any other tax," Walker said.