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Fitzgerald predicts big boost in state revenue

Senate Majority Leader-elect Scott Fitzgerald has a gut feeling that the Legislature could have as much as $1 billion in flexibility as it constructs the upcoming state budget.

Fitzgerald, re-elected to his old post last week after Republicans re-took control of the Senate, says he’s not basing it on anything he’s seen from the guv’s office or the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. But his feeling about an improving budget picture is the guv and lawmakers will have $1 billion in revenue growth over the biennium to work with for the 2013-15 budget.

Still, he cautioned even with that additional money, it’s hard to make any commitments because there could be issues with Medicare and Medicaid expenses that may leave little room to play with any additional dollars.

He also said his caucus’ top goals will be a balanced budget finished by June 1 with no structural deficit.

“If there’s enough revenue there to do some type of either tax reform or a tax cut, I think that’s definitely something that our caucus would be willing to look at,” Fitzgerald said in a new WisPolitics.com interview.

Fitzgerald said there is also some work to do with the transportation fund because projections show a significant deficit over the next decade. But any attempts to reinstate indexing the gas tax will be a non-starter with his caucus. Beyond being a tax increase, which he said his caucus will not support, the idea of automatically hiking taxes without a vote is a problem.

The Legislature agreed with Walker’s proposal in the 2011-13 budget to direct more GPR to the transportation fund. But there are some long-term concerns on whether that can be sustained.

He also said there’s a bigger discussion to be had about the guv’s revival of the Transportation Projects Commission to have overview of road projects and believes there needs to be a reconsideration about what projects are absolutely necessary.

“I’m hopeful that eventually there’s some real teeth there and we set priorities based on the TPC’s decisions vs. the whims of what some of the Legislature continues to spring up on their own.”

Fitzgerald sees mining, court changes on Senate agenda

Fitzgerald said he expects the caucus to again tackle mining after coming up one vote short this session of passing a bill.

He dismissed some of the work by Dem Sen. Tim Cullen on the topic this fall as “very political.” Still, he said some of his members who have sat in on the committee’s work believe there’s some value in what might come out of the effort.

He sees the bill that narrowly failed in the Senate this spring as a starting point for work next session, but he also expects some tweaks to it.

“I don’t’ know that we need to start from scratch,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said his caucus will likely revisit voter ID if the courts ultimately rule it unconstitutional, but figuring out what changes might be made is difficult until the courts finishing weighing in on the requirement. He also said some members of his caucus have approached him about a constitutional amendment requiring voter ID at the polls.

Still, he said the episode points to a larger frustration Republicans have with the court system, from the Supreme Court on down, but particularly with circuit court judges in Dane County.

He called the entire Dane County system dysfunctional and said he wouldn’t rule anything out on possible changes to the judicial branch. That includes possible changes to rules on venue, saying it’s been a frustration that Dane County judges seem to be just waiting for the Legislature to pass a law they can jump in on and throw out.

“That’s fine if they want to play politics with the Legislature, then we’ll play politics,” Fitzgerald said.

He said his caucus has had a debate on same-day voter registration and doesn’t appear interested in changing it because going to the so-called "motor voter" option -- as required under federal law if same-day registration is not available -- is not appealing.

One big priority for the caucus moving forward will be economic development measures coming out of WEDC and some jobs bill.

Still, he said some conversations with caucus members about what they want to do moving forward are just beginning, and he has some organizational work to do, including deciding the committee structure for the next session, the calendar and Inauguration Day in January, as well as housekeeping tasks such as office moves after some members had to give up their offices following the June recall election when they lost the majority.

Fitzgerald said he has already decided to re-appoint Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, JFC co-chair, which he said shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. He also has one slot to fill on the committee after former member Rich Zipperer resigned his Senate seat to take a spot in the Walker administration. Fitzgerald said he’s been having conversations with members about who to add.

Listen to the full interview.

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