“I am so glad to be out of Madison.”
That was the statement of state Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) before he climbed into a tractor to handle to farm work Friday, the morning after the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee finalized the 2015–17 state budget Tranel and other legislators will start to review this week.
While in most years, whatever comes out of Joint Finance is close to what the Legislature adopts, Tranel said what he sees this year is a package that is presented with no one knowing if there would be a majority of votes to pass it.
“I am not convinced things are not set in stone,” said Tranel. “I am not committing to vote for it; I am not committing to vote against it.”
From what he saw Friday, if things remained static, he added, “I would not support the budget.”
“I’m going to take a hard look at the final budget,” said state Rep. Todd Novak (R–Dodgeville), who said he “highly doubts” the Assembly will change much of the budget. “I have mixed emotions about the budget.”
Tranel said the budget evolution has been frustrating for him, as issues like transportation have not gotten the discussion they should.
The Joint Finance Committee’s deliberations on transportation focused largely on how much Gov. Scott Walker proposed to borrow, $1.3 billion, for road projects. Borrowing was reduced to $850 million, but the amount in the budget dedicated to road work was reduced to compensate for reducing borrowing.
Tranel said that worsens the state’s deteriorating-road problem.
“I own a business, and I have talked to constituents who own businesses,” he said. “I talk to constituents who handle the budgets of their homes. Everyone understands you have to pay for the things you are using.”
“I had hoped we would have a better long-term solution there,” said Marklein. “We’re going to need more money for the transportation fund.”
Novak said he had “concerns about the road portion of the budget, in that we’re borrowing too much for transportation.”
But increasing revenue was left out of much of the debate. Tranel pointed to Rep. Dean Knudson (R–Hudson), who advocated allowing counties to go to referendum for a 1-cent sales tax to be allocated for county and municipal road projects. That was shot down because it was seen as a tax increase, Tranel said.
Tranel wanted to discuss adding a provision for a gas tax increase that would only kick in when fuel drops below $3 per gallon, and goes away when the price rises again.
Knudson’s and Tranel’s ideas, along with ideas brought up by such groups as the Local Government Institute and the Secretary of Transportation Mark Gottlieb on tolls, wheel taxes, and other options were dismissed by the Republican leadership.
Tranel said he wanted to make sure any funding increase had guarantees for local road projects before he would vote for any increase. Instead, he feels the legislators blocking that discussion were those advocating the Milwaukee Zoo Interchange project remain in the budget, the only significant project in the budget.
Tranel said he and Sen. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) proposed changes from what Walker first proposed in February. Cuts to Seniorcare and county Aging and Disability Resource Centers was pulled out, while the cuts to the UW System were reduced $50 million, to $250 million.
Marklein said a budget proposal to allow renegotiation of leases had the potential to save UW–Platteville $250,000.
The restored UW System cuts were less than what Tranel had hoped, and funding for public schools is not where Tranel thinks it should be. Nor, he said, should there be funds going toward charter and voucher schools before meeting the cost of inflation.
Marklein said the first year of K–12 funding, including allowable revenue caps, was “essentially flat,” though there is $200 million more in funding in the 2016–17 school year. “it’s going to be a challenge” for school districts in the 2015–16 school year, he said.
In the past, when state government made cuts, Tranel said provisions would be written in for local governments and agencies to compensate for those cuts. What gives him pause about this budget is there are no ways for places like schools to deal with the cuts this time.
Another item removed from the budget was the proposed Milwaukee Bucks stadium project. Tranel said the stadium was a complicated issue, but that he could not back “$250 million to build a stadium when we cannot meet the cost of inflation for K–12 education.”
“There are some good things and there are some bad things,” he said about the budget.
Novak got included a provision for a tax deduction of up to $250 for teachers who buy school supplies. He also supported restoring some funding to the state Knowles–Nelson Stewardship Program.
“There are pieces of the budget I’m very proud of,” he said.
Tranel said voters elected him to worry about the details of items like the budget. One example he cited is funding to establish a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail. Originally the money for the trail was coming from the tourism budget, but Tranel and other legislators lobbied to find another funding source to retain the programs. The new trail is coming from a different funding source.
Another controversial proposal would change the state prevailing wage law, which had been discussed earlier in the session, then dropped. On Monday night, Senate Republican leaders said they would put prevailing wage reform into the budget.
Tranel said a change was needed in the law, changing both the thresholds in the size of the project to rules kicking in, and the formula for calculating in rural areas. He does not, however, support repeal.
“I don’t see the evidence that we need to completely repeal it,” he said. “There needs to be reform on how we calculate what it should be.”
The new 2015–17 budget cycle arrived Wednesday without an approved budget. Under state law, however, the state operates under the previous budget until a new budget becomes law.
Tranel said he has not received the volume of calls, emails or letters on this budget he received in previous budgets (the 2011–13 budget following the passage of Act 10 public employee collective bargaining reforms was his first budget vote), but he wanted to encourage constituents to talk with him.
“I cringe whenever an email starts out with ‘I am sure you will probably not read this,’” he said. “It is important, and it does make a difference when they reach out.”