It's a sure sign Wisconsin's budget negotiations have gone on too long when Democrats are quoting Donald Trump and Republicans are accusing their own partisan allies of making "false" and "disingenuous" statements.
Assembly Republican leaders railed against Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, on Thursday, asking her to "walk back" statements she'd made about the transportation budget.
"I stand by my comments," Darling fired back. "There are more responsible solutions we must consider."
There's a general consensus among Republican lawmakers that the level of bonding Gov. Scott Walker proposed in his two-year budget — $1.3 billion — is unsustainable. But Republicans can't seem to agree on how to reduce the borrowing and temper its impact on road projects throughout the state.
Any negotiations they make must be done with the knowledge that Walker will veto any gas tax hike or registration fee increase. With their hands tied, GOP leaders have suggested cutting the level of bonding by $800 million.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Thursday their goal is to make sure any transportation cuts are distributed fairly throughout the state.
"Under the Senate plan, outstate legislators would feel the brunt of the cuts and many in our caucus don’t feel that option is fair. We are advocating for the best possible budget for all of Wisconsin and not just one area of our state," they said.
But Darling told WisPolitics.com on Thursday she believes her Assembly colleagues are trying to delay construction on the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee as a means of pressuring the Senate to approve a hike in registration fees or the gas tax.
Amid the transportation gridlock, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign released numbers showing the financial relationship between road builders and the politicians leveraging their projects.
Since 2011, the top five recipients of contributions from road-building interests were Darling, at $38,725; the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, at $31,600, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, at $30,250; Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, at $26,550; and Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, at $25,800.
Democrats on the budget committee responded to the continued delay by releasing their own colorful statements.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, called out his Republican colleagues for their "public in-fighting," which he said demonstrates an inability to govern despite GOP control of the Legislature and the governor's office.
"The GOP throw-down also underscores the real problem: The continued absence of a governor in Wisconsin. Gov. Walker’s failed and absent leadership is the root cause of unnecessary delay for this budget," Erpenbach said in a statement. "Teleporting press releases on what he will and will not do from hundreds of miles away or sending a tweet with his veto threats is ridiculous. Governor Walker’s absence is a failure of epic proportions and there is no excuse for it at this point, not even a presidential one."
Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said the dilemma is a "stalemate between either using a credit card or delaying critical projects."
"Unfortunately in this full-on feud between Gov. Walker’s presidential ambitions, Tea Party extremists and talk radio, Wisconsin’s infrastructure and ability to compete economically end up being the final loser," Hintz said.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, referenced a quote from Republican presidential hopeful and real estate mogul Donald Trump who on Wednesday said Walker has a lot of problems in Wisconsin.
"You know, Wisconsin has got tremendous problems," Trump told Bloomberg Politics.
"Turn on the TV or open up the paper — families across Wisconsin are fed up. If Republicans don’t find some courage to stand up to the governor, fix this budget and do what’s right, Wisconsinites will be taking a page out of Mr. Trump’s playbook and telling them — 'You’re fired!'" Taylor quipped.
The budget committee, which had hoped to finish its work before Memorial Day, hasn’t met since May 29.