GOP Assembly OKs bill, cuts spending by $250 millionMADISON — Assembly Republicans passed a last-minute plan to plug a hole in the state budget late Wednesday that would reduce state spending by $250 million through mid-2009.
By: By PATRICK MARLEY and STACY FORSTER/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Daily Telegram
MADISON — Assembly Republicans passed a last-minute plan to plug a hole in the state budget late Wednesday that would reduce state spending by $250 million through mid-2009.
The bill, which passed 51-46 mostly along party lines, would also nearly empty the state’s rainy-day accounts and beef up an accounting trick by $125 million.
The Republican bill was a sound rejection of a plan offered by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle this week. Democrats called the new Republican plan irresponsible, setting up the likelihood of weeks or months of gridlock in the Capitol — reminiscent of the four-month budget logjam last year.
Earlier Wednesday, the Senate sent Doyle two high-profile measures: one that would preserve Wisconsin’s virtual schools, and another that would end pay for fired Milwaukee police officers charged with serious crimes. Doyle has said he would sign those measures.
The GOP-backed budget plan was offered as the Assembly met for the last time this year on routine matters. The Senate will hold its last general business session today, but both houses will meet again this year to fill the budget hole.
Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, touted the budget plan as a way to solve the budget problem without asking more of state residents and said Republicans were introducing it to show how that could be achieved.
“In very difficult fiscal times ... you make tough decisions, and the last decision you should make is raising taxes on people,” Huebsch told reporters.
Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, hadn’t seen details of the bill Wednesday, but he said senators would be more deliberative about fixing the budget.
“We’re not just going to rush something through,” Decker said.
The Republican plan would push $125 million in school aid payments into July 2009 — just after the fiscal year ends. That accounting gimmick pushes that part of the budget problem into future years.
It more than doubles the size of an accounting maneuver the state has relied on for 10 years.
Republicans did not specify where the cuts to state government would come from, but many would likely come from reduced wage increases for state workers.
Democrats ripped the plan. “It was done at the last minute, and it looks like a minute’s worth of work,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jim Kreuser, D-Kenosha.
Aides to Doyle said he would have to review the Republican plan, but on Monday Doyle told reporters that lawmakers should be careful about draining the state’s emergency funds.
“It is simply irresponsible to budget to the point where we have nothing left in reserve,” Doyle said. “We would be in a greater bind had our budget not included a cushion, and we have to make sure that we prepare ourselves for an uncertain future ahead of us.”
The plan Doyle announced Monday would create a hospital tax, tap into $243 million from the state’s transportation fund, delay new programs and cut spending across state government.
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