MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos conceded Wednesday that gas taxes "probably" aren't going to be increased to pay for road improvements, given Gov. Scott Walker's opposition to that approach.
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Vos is presiding over the largest GOP majority in the state Assembly since 1957, but has clashed with fellow Republican Walker on road funding, UW tuition and other issues. Walker will introduce his state budget, which will include his funding proposals in those areas and across state government for the next two years, in February.
Vos spoke about the upcoming budget Wednesday and took questions at a forum hosted by the website Wispolitics.com.
The biggest budget fight this year is expected to be over transportation funding. The state faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall and Walker is proposing fixing it by delaying major highway projects and borrowing about half a billion dollars, a plan that's been met with resistance by Vos and other Republicans.
Vos and other Assembly leaders have said a gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases should at least be considered. But Walker has said he would veto any such increase without a corresponding tax cut elsewhere.
Vos, who supports toll roads, said Wednesday that he doesn't think a gas tax increase is in the cards.
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"I have a pair of twos, the governor has a straight and I have to draw three of a kind to win," Vos said, using a poker analogy. "Now, it's not impossible, but I wouldn't bet on me."
Even so, Vos said it's "way too early" to concede defeat and will be continue to make the case for the gas tax to be in the mix.
Walker's spokesman, Tom Evenson, didn't immediately respond to an email requesting reaction.
Walker earlier this month proposed cutting tuition for all in-state undergraduates in the University of Wisconsin System. The proposal received a lukewarm reception at the time from Vos and the Republican co-chairs of the budget-writing committee, and Vos remained unenthused about the idea Wednesday.
"Do I think a goal should be to cut tuition? That wouldn't by my goal," Vos said. He said his preference would be to increase financial aid so it could benefit families who need it more than more wealthy students and target funding to make it easier for students to graduate on time.
Walker has said the tuition cut would be paid for with state tax revenue, but he has not released details about how it would be structured or how much it would be worth. Those details will come in his budget next month. Tuition has been frozen at UW for four years and university leaders have asked the Legislature to allow it to raise tuition after a fifth year of it being frozen.
On other topics, Vos said:
— the Legislature may reshape the state budget this fall or next spring in reaction to the federal budget, expected to be approved in the fall. Vos said he hoped the incoming Trump administration and Republican Congress would give states more flexibility by making Medicaid, transportation and worker training programs available in block grants.
— he hoped UW would include more "intellectual diversity." ''Global warming? Some people think it's real, other people are critics," Vos said. "If you're a student on the campus, why shouldn't you hear from both?"
— he was confident the Legislature would prevail in an ongoing legal fight over redistricting. A federal court in November struck down the Republican-drawn maps as unconstitutional, a ruling that's expected to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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