In politics, one can sometimes play "choose your own cliche," which is only slightly less fun than those "choose your own adventure" books.
What's old is new again. The more things change, the more they stay the same. You get the point.
And such is the case with the closed door negotiations aimed at breaking Republicans' impasse on issues like transportation funding and funding a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, all in the hope of passing the state budget on time.
Republican leaders held a second day of private meetings on Wednesday, aiming to work out agreements on those issues and a handful of others, including a proposal to repeal or reform the state's prevailing wage laws.
After the first day of meetings, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters he thinks "it's possible" the Joint Finance Committee could resume meeting this week or next.
The panel, which had hoped to finish its work before Memorial Day, hasn’t met since May 29. It expects to reconvene later this week. For comparison, the committee finished its work on the 2013-15 budget on June 5, 2013. For the 2011-13 budget, it wrapped up on June 3, 2011. The Legislature sent the budgets to Walker on June 21, 2013, and June 16, 2011.
Republicans have balked at Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for road projects, but haven't been able to reach an agreement on how much borrowing is acceptable. Walker has said raising registration fees or the gas tax are both out of the question.
Vos said no agreement was made between him and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, but that they were working from a "general framework" that they might cut the level of bonding by $800 million, down to $500 million.
"Having Wisconsin's entire transportation system be dependent on increases in bonding is not sustainable in the long run," Vos said.
In the meantime, some Republican lawmakers are asking for the Bucks proposal to be taken out of the budget and debated separately. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, has asked for the same to be done with transportation funding.
GOP leaders are still finalizing a draft of the arena proposal to be released to legislators and the public, Vos said, adding that he thinks a majority in his caucus supports the proposal "to some extent."
"I don’t expect to ask anybody for a vote until they have a document they can see," he said.
Democrats this week have been critical of the intra-party gridlock and the closed-door meetings taking place to solve it, noting that their party hasn't been at the table for contentious issues like the Bucks proposal.
"The majority had no problem burning down the house on the most important state programs like funding for public school classrooms and the UW System, but is more than willing to put the budget process at a complete standstill as they fight over backroom deals," said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, was critical of the private negotiations, suggesting they would result in favors for special interest groups.
Democrats in this cycle are singing the same tune they heard from Vos in 2009, when Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle was in office.
In May 2009, Vos criticized Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee, "saying it was irresponsible to approve such major changes with little scrutiny and no input from the public," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel then reported.
"The only word that comes to mind is 'reckless,'" Vos said at the time.
During that same budget cycle, Vos "criticized (then-Rep. Mark) Pocan and Democrats for putting the budget together largely in secret meetings and taking votes late into the night. Vos has frequently attacked tax and fee increases in the plan, including imposing a new 75-cent fee on cell phone users and creating a higher income tax bracket for those earning over $300,000 a year."
Once Joint Finance wraps up its work, the budget will make its way through the Assembly and Senate before it reaches the governor's desk. Walker can make changes with a line-item veto.
The new fiscal year begins on July 1, but if a budget isn't passed by then, the state will continue to operate under the old one.
Asked whether July 1 is still a realistic deadline, Vos said, "Yeah, I think so."