By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Budget passed by assembly
Placeholder Image
MADISON - The Wisconsin Assembly passed the state budget Wednesday, June 19 after Democrats decided against offering any amendments or prolonging debate, saying the $70 billion spending plan is so bad it can't be fixed.

The budget would cut income taxes for all tax filers by $650 million over two years, expand statewide private school vouchers currently only available in Milwaukee and Racine, and tighten income eligibility under Medicaid, forcing nearly 90,000 people into federally subsidized exchanges to purchase insurance.

While Republicans praised the plan, saying it would help grow the economy through tax cuts and provide parents more education choices, Democrats called it an irresponsible, extreme roadmap that doesn't reflect the state's values.

"We believe there's no hope for this budget," said Minority Leader Peter Barca, the only Democrat who spoke against the plan before the vote.

The budget passed 55-42. Three Republicans - Reps. Steve Nass, Howard Marklein and Steve Kestell - joined all 39 Democrats in opposition.

Marklein, while approving of individual items in the budget, said glaring problems moved him to vote against the bill.

"My ultimate decision process on the budget vote was lengthy and difficult," he said in a statement. "Although there were numerous provisions in the budget that I supported, I ultimately voted against the budget bill.

"One of the most glaring problems with this budget is that it will result in an estimated $545 million structural deficit. It is especially troubling considering the fact our 2013 fiscal year started with a $500 million surplus due to the successful budget reforms from last legislative session. When I ran for office, I pledged to reform the way budgeting is done in Madison; therefore, I cannot support a budget that is not balanced."

Marklein also said he does not support the increase in borrowing the budget authorized. "At the end of the biennium, our state will owe an extra $500 million. As stewards of the taxpayers' dollars, I believe state government needs to tighten its belt rather than put unnecessary spending on the state's credit card."

Additionally, he said he is concerned with property tax increases that may result from the budget.

Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said Republican leaders went back on their word and altered the bill with several late changes.

"For weeks, we have repeatedly been told by Republican leadership that the only modifications to this budget would be minor, technical changes," she said in a statement. "Even as recently as (Tuesday), Speaker (Robin) Vos told our caucus, 'We are not amending the budget beyond what Joint Finance did.' Well, contrary to what Speaker Vos told our caucus, after hours of wheeling and dealing (Tuesday), behind closed doors, the Republicans introduced a brand new amendment with nearly 30 new provisions.

"The budget that came before the State Assembly for a vote (Wednesday) is so egregious it would not be acceptable without major revisions and amendments."

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Republicans have an 18-15 majority. Debate there was to begin today, June 20.

Moderate Republican senators have been pushing for even more changes to the budget, but Republican GOP Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said it had the votes to pass.

"I think we're in real good shape now," Fitzgerald said.

Republicans have an 18-15 majority in the Senate, so no more than one Republican can vote against it given unanimous Democratic opposition.

The budget must pass both houses in identical form before being sent to Gov. Scott Walker, who has extensive power to veto individual items. Fitzgerald said he had received no assurances from Walker on what would or would not be vetoed.

At the beginning of debate, Vos highlighted what he saw as virtues of the budget, including the income tax cut and freeze on both property tax increases and University of Wisconsin tuition. He said Republicans addressed concerns they heard from citizens around the state.

"Wisconsin is proud of this budget," he said.

But Barca decried the expansion of voucher schools, the rejection of the Medicaid expansion and the income tax cuts that give more of the benefit to the wealthy.

"You're putting extremism before logic," he said.

Budget debate was originally slated to last 12 1/2 hours over two days in the Assembly. But on Tuesday, only 15 minutes was spent on the plan as Republicans negotiated in secret over more than two dozen changes that were adopted Wednesday. The vote to pass came at after just over an hour of debate when Democrats decided not to pursue any changes.

The move was surprising, especially after Democrats drafted more than 200 amendments and just two years ago dragged out debate for more than 60 straight hours on Walker's proposal taking away public workers' collective bargaining rights.

Republicans acknowledged being caught flat-footed by the Democratic decision.

"They decided to retreat and go home," said Republican Majority Leader Scott Suder.

Assembly Speaker Vos said Democrats did a disservice to their constituents.

"I would have enjoyed the opportunity to defend our budget," Vos said.

Democrats said at a news conference after the vote that their decision was strategy, not surrender. Rather than fight a losing battle on the Assembly floor, they promised to tell the public about the budget's shortcomings in hopes of convincing people to vote Republicans out of office next year.