Democrats in the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature are asking their GOP counterparts to create a new committee dedicated to transportation funding, but their request is unlikely to be granted.
The committee would be tasked with "developing a long-term transportation funding plan in a public and transparent manner, protecting Wisconsin jobs, expanding job training opportunities and improving public safety," according to a letter Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, sent to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
"Legislative leaders carefully apportion joint and standing committee membership prior to inauguration and to rework this structure mid-session would significantly disrupt legislative business," said Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck in an email. "Senator Fitzgerald takes the long term infrastructure funding needs of the state very seriously and plans to continue to work to craft a transportation budget through normal channels."
Their request comes the day before Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, is expected to release an alternative transportation budget proposal. Details leaked from the proposal on Tuesday drew immediate criticism from Democrats.
Transportation funding looms as one of the most pressing questions for lawmakers as they consider Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-19 budget proposal.
The governor's $76.1 billion budget would have allocated about $6.1 billion for transportation funding, including a $40 million increase in general transportation aids to counties and municipalities. The proposal included $500 million in borrowing.
While Walker said his proposal focused on safety and maintenance, Assembly Republicans and Democrats in both chambers argued it didn't offer a long-term fix. The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee dropped the governor's transportation proposal from the budget last month, signaling their intent to build a plan from the ground up.
The budget-writing committee held its first round of votes on the spending plan on Monday. It has not yet scheduled votes on a transportation plan.
Barca told reporters on Wednesday he doesn't believe Republicans will be able to get on the same page when it comes to funding roads, and likened the situation to the previous legislative session, when Democrats and Republicans joined together to provide the votes needed to pass legislation to publicly finance a new Milwaukee Bucks stadium.
"This is, I think, a way forward to actually try to come together to solve something that, economically, is of vital importance to the state," Barca said of the proposed committee. "There's no question we're stuck in neutral and just not moving forward."
Barca and Shilling have proposed an eight-member committee with equal representation from both parties and both chambers.
"We can create a better deal for taxpayers and workers if we move beyond partisan posturing, special interest demands and counterproductive veto threats," Shilling said in a statement. "A joint committee — with equal input from both sides — can break the current stalemate and expand economic opportunities for Wisconsin workers, businesses and communities.”
A spokeswoman for Vos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.