A potential shortfall in the state’s transportation fund threatens to create tension in the party ranks as Republican state lawmakers debate the logistics of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget priorities.
Walker’s initial budget proposal included borrowing $500 million in transportation funding. However, GOP legislators on the budget committee have scrapped the governor’s plan, opting instead to restructure a transportation proposal themselves.
The transportation fund, which is primarily supported by gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, would be saddled with an almost $1 billion shortfall under Walker’s spending plan.
While the Legislature works to secure a deal on transportation, Republican leadership remains divided on the path forward.
Walker has publicly stated his intention to veto any proposed increase in the gas tax, a measure tentatively floated by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
The governor instead favors dipping into the state’s general fund, a more flexible pool of tax funds that is used primarily for health care, education and agency administration, to fill the gap in transportation spending.
“I’ve said repeatedly in my meetings with the speaker and the Senate majority leader that I think we can free up some more money looking at general purpose revenue in the state budget and some other areas we think we can save on,” Walker said in a press conference.
Some in Republican leadership, however, view borrowing from the general fund, or GPR, as a shortsighted solution.
"While Speaker Vos is open to the idea of using GPR, he would like to see a long-term solution for transportation funding and continues to keep all options on the table," Kit Beyer, Vos’ spokesperson, said.
On the other side of the aisle, Democratic lawmakers have voiced support for linking the gas tax to inflation, a policy ended in 2005, and have stood in opposition to appropriating general funding away from the pool’s usual recipients.
"It's not a solution,” Sen. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, a member of the Joint Finance Committee, said. “It's just going to put us further behind when our schools have already borne so much of the cut.”