Johnson Explains Why Republicans Are At Odds With Each Other

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Premiere Date: 
May 12, 2017

Johnson Explains Why Republicans Are At Odds With Each Other

Wisconsin Public Radio's Capitol Bureau Chief, Shawn Johnson, reveals points of state budget that republicans disagree on at the capitol. The legislature's budget committee rejected the Governor's transportation plan. Republicans also disagree on an alternative road funding/tax proposal.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

It seems rare that majority of Republicans in Wisconsin are at odds with each other over major budget items. In tonight's “Capitol Insight” we're joined by Wisconsin Public Radio's Capitol Bureau Chief Shawn Johnson to unpack the discord. And Shawn, thanks for being here.

Shawn Johnson:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

The majority in the Senate and Assembly are at odds as we've said with each other over road funding and tax changing proposals. Where are we with all of this at week's end?

Shawn Johnson:

I would say the gulf between them has grown over the past week at least it looks like that from a distance. We should preface this by saying they're Republicans, they're all Republicans, they've all done budgets together before. They'll get there eventually but right now they're nowhere near each other when it comes to transportation. There are a couple ideas that got floated this week that were almost immediately objected to.

Frederica Freyberg:

Like?

Shawn Johnson:

Like for example one was Senator Fitzgerald said, "Here's one way that we can maybe solve the transportation issue. We borrow more only we don't do it and back it up with the transportation fund. We back it up with the general fund which pays for schools, prisons, Medicaid. Get its money from the income and sales taxes." He thought that might be more palatable to legislators who have issues with transportation borrowing. It was not. Assembly speaker or at least the Assembly co-chair of the budget committee said almost immediately, "No, that doesn't change anything. We still don't want to borrow more for roads. We're still borrowing too much."

Frederica Freyberg:

Does it suggest this is a really, really difficult problem?

Shawn Johnson:

I think when they start looking at these -- they're kind of thinking outside the box a little bit on these. You heard the co-chairs of the budget committee do another one of those this week and say hey, "Let's take the transportation budget and pass it as a stand-alone bill. Get the rest of this budget done on its own. And then we do the transportation budget on its own and then maybe we get Democratic votes for that." That was something they were open to. Again, that one was shot down almost immediately by Governor Walker's office and Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald’s office. They don't want to go there.

Frederica Freyberg:

Backing up a little bit from what's happening right now, the legislature's budget committee rejected the governor's transportation plan. I mean that's why they're all here trying to figure out their own. What were the big sticking points with the governor's transportation budget?

Shawn Johnson:

I think by and large they viewed it as another budget that didn't come up with a long-term solution to transportation. So the state has long-term issues when it comes to transportation funding. There are a lot of big projects that lawmakers want to move forward with but over the last decade or so, they haven't come up with new money, really, to move forward with those projects. They've continually borrowed. That borrowing has added up to the point that, you know, at the end of this budget, 22 cents of every dollar of transportation revenue would be going to pay off old debts. So think of that like paying off interest on a credit card. That's a lot of money. Those are their big issues with the problems. It doesn't fund all the projects they want and it continues to borrow.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is this one of those budgets do you suppose that goes well into the summer?

Shawn Johnson:

It could. I mean the last time they split off the transportation budget I think was 1995 or at least that was one of the times they did it and just looking back in the legislature's records looked like they wrapped that up around November. Again, they had the biggest Republican majorities in decades here. They could reach a deal any day now. But doesn't look like it.

Frederica Freyberg:

On another of the governor's proposals, this idea of going to self-insurance. How surprising is it to you and other kind of capitol observers that Republican budget writers are just outright rejecting that?

Shawn Johnson:

Not surprising in the sense they've sent signs they didn't like it for quite a while now. They are not sure that the savings that the governor's office has latched onto would be there. And you're changing a pretty huge insurance market to try to get that $60 million over the next couple years. Not a huge payoff for disrupting the entire system.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, the Joint Finance Committee and the budget writers haven't even gotten to the university budget and all those things having to do with tuition cuts and performance metrics and that kind of thing. How gnarly is that going to be?

Shawn Johnson:

I think that the university and anyone else is going to be watching the budget pretty closely because if you're pulling out that money that was going to be there through this projected savings on self-insurance, for example. That money's not going to be there. Where's it going to come from? There's a lot of areas that could be targets to find that extra money if the legislature still wants to spend more money on K-12 public education.

Frederica Freyberg:

We’ll leave it there, Shawn, thanks.

Shawn Johnson:

You’re welcome.

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