MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday that he expects “chaos” as the Legislature rushes to complete its business over the next several weeks and he would not guarantee that several of Gov. Scott Walker’s top priorities would pass during the final push.
At a meeting of the Wisconsin Counties Association, he and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos gave an update where major proposals stand as the Legislature nears the end of its two-year session. Walker was set to speak at the meeting later Wednesday.
On transportation, Fitzgerald said raising the gas tax by 5 or 10 cents per gallon would not be enough to address the state’s needs. Walker last week said he would be open to a gas tax increase with an equal tax cut elsewhere. Fitzgerald said any transportation funding solution would have to include tolling on interstates, which would require federal approval.
Vos said Republicans were on the “cusp of a potential agreement” on a juvenile justice overhaul along the lines of what Walker proposed. It would result in juvenile inmates being removed from the troubled Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake prison complex in Irma, north of Wausau. Fitzgerald said the major issue in reaching a deal is determining who would run new juvenile prisons Walker envisioned, the state or counties.
“You’ve got to answer that question first,” Fitzgerald said.
Walker called for the creation of five new juvenile prisons across the state. Vos said he hoped to announce a deal early next week under which the most serious juvenile offenders would be in one or two prisons and the others would be housed elsewhere in conjunction with the counties.
Before the event, Fitzgerald told reporters he thought Walker was willing to compromise on his proposal to give a $100 rebate for every school-aged child. But Fitzgerald said senators haven’t discussed several other Walker priorities and he would not guarantee that measures getting approval by the budget committee, which typically signals its eventual passage, would clear the Senate.
Fitzgerald noted that the Republican majority in the Senate is down to 18-14, following a Democratic special election victory in a seat previously held by a Republican, narrowing the GOP margin to pass bills.
That budget committee was meeting Wednesday and Thursday to take votes on several measures, including one backed by Walker that would send more money to rural schools in sparsity aid and allow low-spending districts to collect more from property taxes without a vote. Another Walker proposal before the committee this week would spend $6.8 million on marketing in Chicago, the Twin Cities and Detroit to lure more millennial workers to Wisconsin.
Vos and Fitzgerald agreed that a measure that’s a priority of counties and local governments will not pass this year. That’s a proposal to remove the so-called “dark stores” loophole to force mega-retailers like Menards to pay more in local property taxes. Fitzgerald said the issue was complicated and needs more study before the Legislature acts.
Vos has previously said other measures that will not pass due to a lack of support include a proposed ban of medical research on fetal tissue from abortions and a bill that would allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit.
Numerous other measures remain in the mix, including Walker’s proposals to increase work requirements for food stamp recipients and guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can buy health insurance. The Assembly is also moving forward with a bill opposed by environmental and conservation groups that would allow developers to fill state wetlands without permits and scale back mitigation requirements.
There’s little time for the Legislature to act. The Assembly plans to meet five days in February while the Senate will be in session on Feb. 20 and possibly only one day beyond that.
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