Voss calls out fellow Republicans in Senate on budget


June 30, 2015

Budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren, left, discusses details of the $500 million Milwaukee Bucks arena plan as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos watches on Monday, June 29, 2015, in Madison, Wis. The financing proposal relies on half of the money coming from state and local taxpayers, with the other half from current and former team owners.

MADISON Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called on Senate Republicans to publicly take a position on the type of changes to Wisconsin's prevailing wage law they're willing to support, saying Monday that his plan cutting eligible projects by 60 percent has the votes to pass and be signed into law.

With the budget impasse now in its fifth week, Vos voiced frustration with his Senate colleagues, saying he would hold more news conferences this week to lay out the Assembly's positions on other outstanding issues.

"The Assembly is not going to just sit around and wait for the Senate to get its act together," Vos said.

Just three hours later, he released the highly anticipated draft of the $500 million Milwaukee Bucks arena financing proposal, the outline of which was made public on June 4. Half of the money would come from state and local taxpayers, with the other half from current and former team owners.

Vos said he had enough votes in the Assembly to pass the proposal whether it's in the budget or not, but he didn't know where things stood in the Senate.

In addition to the Bucks plan and the issue of prevailing wage a law that sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects like building roads and schools the Republican-controlled Legislature is also at a standstill on how to apply cuts in transportation funding.

The new budget year begins Wednesday, but current funding levels will continue unabated with no government shutdown until a new spending plan is enacted. Republican senators were to caucus Tuesday, with Assembly Republicans meeting Wednesday.

Gov. Scott Walker, who had previously said he wouldn't announce a presidential bid until after he signs the budget, is now planning to state his intentions as soon as July 13, regardless of whether the Legislature is done.

Vos said it's a possibility that the Assembly could move forward with its own separate budget bill a highly unusual tactic instead of working together with the Senate to reach a deal.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's spokeswoman had no immediate comment. Walker's spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said in an email that the governor "supports a full repeal of the prevailing wage law but would accept meaningful reform if that is what gets to his desk." Vos' prevailing wage proposal would eliminate the prevailing wage for projects by technical colleges or involving volunteers, donations and residential or agricultural construction.

It would also bar prevailing wage from being required on any projects costing less than $450,000 for other units of government. Under current law, there are a variety of different thresholds.

The issue has been a tough one for the Legislature, with some conservatives pushing for a full repeal while minority Democrats and even some Republicans want to preserve the law. Sen. Steve Nass, one of two Republicans who've sworn not to vote for a state budget that doesn't at least repeal prevailing wage for local projects, blasted Vos' proposal as a "compromise with special interests."

Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the Senate, and Fitzgerald can only lose two votes to still have enough to pass a budget. Vos said he didn't think the Senate had 17 votes in support of any prevailing wage proposal.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, said Vos' proposal doesn't go far enough and it will continue working for full repeal.

Also on Monday, a group of construction employers, small businesses and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards issued a statement reiterating their position that they would prefer that the prevailing wage law be repealed entirely for local projects.

Vos' proposal would also simplify how wages are calculated for any qualifying projects.

Rep. Dan Knodl, who joined Vos in announcing the plan, said it was the "best possible package that can produce meaningful reforms."

"This really is the road to full repeal," Knodl said.

Coalition says rent-to-own exemptions could come in budget

MADISON A coalition of faith leaders, low-income advocates and consumer groups is warning against a possible budget provision that could limit transparency about rent-to-own products.

Peter Skopec, director of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, said Monday that he anticipated exemptions would be added to the state budget for companies that offer rent-to-own goods. Rent-to-own companies offer products like televisions and electronics that people can buy in rental payment installments. Skopec said many companies charge substantial interest.

Skopec says he hasn't yet seen a provision that would exempt the companies from publishing their interest rates, but believes one is imminent.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says changes to rent-to-own provisions are under consideration.

The budget-writing committee has not met since May 29.


Associated Press