June 27, 2017[Madison, Wis…] – The fireworks began a few days early, and reporters in the Capitol press room got the best seat in the house Tuesday.
They were treated to the latest incendiary display of budget discord between Republican leadership in the Assembly and Senate.
After less than 45 minutes of futility, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald stormed out of GOP budget talks declaring that the Senate was “done,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters during an impromptu visit.
Fitzgerald then paid a call on the press room to set the record straight, according to a spokeswoman for the Juneau Republican. The senator told reporters he wasn’t angry, just direct.
State Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), the Assembly majority leader, tweeted his displeasure.
Set aside the entire day for negotiations w/senate. Talked at for 40 minutes w/no negotiations. Sad!
— Jim Steineke (@jimsteineke) June 27, 2017
Steineke was among a wave of Republican leadership to flow into the Capitol press room Tuesday.
The problem, in the parlance of “Cool Hand Luke,” is a failure to communicate among Republican friends who, some argue, have treated each other more like enemies over key budget differences – principally how to fund transportation.
Vos (R-Rochester) has oft-repeated that if the two houses can’t reach a deal, the state’s troubled Department of Transportation would be funded at base levels, with no new cash for delayed projects.
Fitzgerald called that position “laughable.”
Assembly Republican leadership has long said all options must be on the table to deal with a disputed $1 billion transportation budget shortfall. That includes increases to the gas tax, vehicle registration fee hikes and other “revenue enhancers.” The Senate effectively has stood by Gov. Scott Walker‘s budget plan, which calls for $500 million in borrowing, delaying some major projects, and absolutely no tax increases.
Capitol reporters at the barrage of Republican leadership point-counterpoint, seemed to gleefully tweet about Tuesday’s back-and-forth. Vos, according to one of the accounts, said Fitzgerald spent a lot of time “talking at us, seeming angry and then said, ‘We’re done.'”
Vos’ spokeswoman said Vos was not available for comment Tuesday. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) was in meetings Tuesday afternoon.
Fitzgerald told reporters the Assembly doesn’t seem interested in compromise – or reality.
“As the senator told the press room today, he didn’t feel the Assembly came prepared to negotiate and he doesn’t believe (their proposals) could be approved by both chambers and the governor,” Myranda Tanck told MacIver News Service.
While the major legislative players have their differences, the Republican governor holds the veto pen. The Assembly’s failure to recognize Walker’s very powerful budget weapon is getting in the way of completing a timely budget, at least that’s the sentiment of Senate leadership.
The clock is ticking. The Legislature will not have a budget to Walker’s desk by Friday, the end of the fiscal year. Capitol insiders tell MacIver News that the Joint Finance Committee isn’t likely to meet again this week, further setting back the timeline.
Fitzgerald said he doesn’t “know where to go from here.”
Tomorrow is another day, however. Senate Republicans plan to caucus Wednesday, and Vos and Fitzgerald are supposed to meet with Walker.
On a more conciliatory note, Tanck said Republican leadership is “fairly close” on a “vast majority” of provisions in the K-12 education budget.
“There is agreement on most of the big issues on that budget area. Now it’s just a matter of cementing this together,” Tanck said.
She said there is “significant support” in the Republican Senate caucus and from many Republicans in the Assembly on repealing the state’s personal property tax, a move that could save businesses hundreds of millions of dollars.