MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that he wants to plug a transportation budget deficit by tapping general tax revenues instead of raising taxes and fees, drawing a skeptical response from fellow Republicans who head the Legislature's budget-writing committee.
Walker and Republican lawmakers have been at odds over how to solve the projected $1 billion transportation budget hole. Walker has proposed delaying projects and borrowing about half a billion dollars, while Assembly Republicans have said all options — including gas and vehicle fee increases — should be in play.
Walker has threatened to veto a proposed gas tax increase. And while he stopped short of a veto threat Monday for vehicle fee hikes, he made clear that's not the funding road he wanted to go down.
"I'm not proposing nor do I think we're going to have a gas tax or vehicle registration fee as a part of this budget," he told reporters. Walker said he had "no interest" in higher vehicle registration fees and he knew of no one in the Legislature who was talking about it.
But Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, Republican co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, said Monday that fees were "definitely" under consideration.
"I say everything is on the table," she said.
Walker appears to be coming around to the idea of tapping the state's general fund comprised of sales, income and numerous other tax and fee collections to help pay for roads. That fund pays for everything from K-12 schools to prisons, health care for the needy and the University of Wisconsin System. Walker didn't say how much he's open to diverting to the transportation fund, which is made up of gas tax and vehicle registration fees.
"I've said repeatedly in my meetings with the (Assembly) 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 that we think we can save on," Walker said.
Budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren said he was "skeptical" of using general tax money for roads because it's used to fund so much else in state government. Critics of diverting general tax revenue to the transportation fund have also said that's not a sustainable way to pay for roads.
Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland, who is on the budget committee, called used general tax money a "shell game" that puts funding for K-12 schools and other priorities at risk. She said Democrats would support re-instating a system where the gas tax increases along with inflation.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has been the most bullish about using general fund money to pay for roads, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has proposed increasing $300 million in transportation-related taxes and fees to bolster that fund, with corresponding cuts elsewhere.
Walker said he was "very confident we'll reach a positive conclusion" with fellow Republicans who control the Legislature.
A resolution could still be months away. The Legislature's budget-writing committee held six public hearings this month and plans to start voting on making changes to Walker's budget next week, but the most difficult — and consequential — decisions likely won't be made until later in June.