MADISON, Wis. — There is no consensus among Republican senators about whether to pursue toll roads for Wisconsin’s interstates, but they are leaning toward eliminating or phasing out a personal property tax that primarily affects businesses, the co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee said Thursday.
Sen. Alberta Darling said senators also remain committed to Gov. Scott Walker’s K-12 school funding proposal that would increase per-student aid more than an Assembly GOP plan released Tuesday.
Despite the disagreements among Republicans in the Senate and Assembly and Walker, Darling said she was optimistic they could all reach a consensus and pass a budget close to the June 30 deadline. If a budget isn’t enacted by then, spending continues at the current level and state government does not shut down.
“We always work it out and we will this time, too,” Darling said following a closed-door Capitol meeting with Republican senators and staff from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was in Washington on Wednesday to participate in a roundtable discussion at the White House with President Donald Trump about the country’s infrastructure needs.
How to plug Wisconsin’s nearly $1 billion transportation shortfall is one of several key issues holding up passage of the budget.
Vos said in a statement that “the state’s infrastructure is falling into disrepair and we need a long-term, sustainable solution.” He’s advocated for raising the gas tax, something Senate Republicans and Walker oppose.
But Vos, Senate Republicans and Walker have all been open to toll roads to bring in more money.
Walker on Wednesday said if the state does pursue toll roads, he’d want to see them focused along the state’s border, especially with Illinois. The state would have to get federal approval and because of the time it would take to implement the tolling, any money generated would not be available for years.
“We didn’t accept (tolling) as a strategy but we talked more about it — as how it would be played out,” Darling said.
She added that she did not think there was a consensus on whether to approve tolling “at this point.”
“But you never know where you can go,” she said.
Eliminating or greatly reducing the personal property tax was “very popular overall,” Darling said. Walker’s budget includes a $200 million income tax cut, but there’s been pressure among some Republicans to use that money to help pay for cutting the personal property tax instead.
The 170-year-old tax generates about $260 million a year and is assessed on such items as machinery, boats and furniture at nonresidential property. Businesses argue it’s unfair, but ending it is expensive and could result in a loss of money to schools and municipalities.
Darling said Republican senators planned to meet again privately Tuesday to continue discussing transportation. She said she hoped to have the budget committee — which canceled two meetings this week — get together again at the end of next week to continue voting on the budget.
Darling and two other senators, Steve Nass and Luther Olsen, all said they would oppose having the Senate take the unprecedented move of passing its own separate budget. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had floated that as an option earlier this week. It’s never happened when one party controls both houses of the Legislature.
“It’s way too early for that,” Darling said.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP