State Assembly passes budget on 50-48 vote

MADISON -- The State Assembly passed its version of the next state budget early Saturday -- a budget Republicans opposed because of what they said was a record $2.1 billion in tax and fee increases over the next two years.

MADISON -- The State Assembly passed its version of the next state budget early Saturday -- a budget Republicans opposed because of what they said was a record $2.1 billion in tax and fee increases over the next two years.

The 50-48 vote that passed the budget came at 5:20 a.m., after more than nine hours of hours of debate.

Independent Rep. Jeff Wood, of Chetek, voted with 49 Democrats for the budget. Democratic Reps. Bob Ziegelbauer, of Manitowoc, and Peggy Krusick of Milwaukee joined 46 Republicans who opposed it. First-term Rep. Nick Milroy (D-Superior) returned home Friday because of a family medical emergency.

Democrats, in control of the Assembly for the first time in 14 years, killed more than 100 changes offered by Republicans.

The vote sent the $62.2-billion spending package to the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats.


Senate leaders hope to pass their version of a budget next week, clearing the way for leaders to quickly resolve differences between the two houses of the Legislature.

In the only major break with what Gov. Jim Doyle proposed in February, the Assembly refused to authorize the early release of prison inmates convicted of specific crimes who follow prison rules. Doyle proposed their early release to save tax funds and relieve prison overcrowding without building new prisons.

But Assembly members unanimously voted to deny early release to inmates convicted of felony and second-degree murder, kidnapping, stalking that involved bodily harm to a victim or use of a weapon, strangulation, disarming a peace officer or tampering with GPS monitoring unit while on supervision.

Democratic leaders said they had to make tough choices -- raising taxes, laying off up to 1,400 workers, rescinding 2% pay raises, furloughing workers without pay and cutting state aid to local governments and schools -- to deal with the worst recession since the 1930s.

"Through responsible leadership and shared sacrifice, we have delivered a balanced budget that puts Wisconsin on track to economic recovery and future prosperity," Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) said after the vote.

Republicans warned that the tax and fee increases would pinch middle-class families, however.

With Saturday's vote, "It's going to be your budget," Republican Leader Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon warned Democrats.

In five days of closed-door meetings, Assembly Democrats gathered enough support for the two-year spending plan by, among other things, approving a $37-million list of regional favors -- earmarks denounced as "pork-barrel" projects by Republicans.


Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine) said it was a budget full of "pork -- and payback," referring to what he said were changes demanded by unions and other Democratic Party constituencies.

The biggest partisan fights in the Assembly were over new limits and accountability standards for private schools who take state money to educate low-income students as part of the Milwaukee choice program and over plans to create regional transportation authorities.

If it became law, changes in the Assembly budget would be noticed by almost every Wisconsin family.

For example, it would raise the $1.77 tax on a pack of cigarettes to $2.52; require vehicle owners to pay more for liability insurance coverage; let oil companies raise pump prices by 3- or 4-cents per gallon to recover a new tax on their revenues; issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, and let law officers stop vehicles if they suspect its occupants are not wearing seat belts.

It would also make the richest Wisconsin taxpayers, with taxable incomes of $225,000 for single taxpayers and $300,000 for married couples, pay $287 million more in income taxes over the next two years. Those taxpayers would be hurt by the creation of a new, 7.75% tax bracket.

The budget now goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it is expected to pass this week. Any major differences between versions passed by the two houses would need to be worked out in a conference committee, which could meet next weekend.

Lawmakers want to put the final budget on Doyle's desk by the end of the month. If he signs it by July 1, an estimated $15 million more in federal highway funds would be directed to Wisconsin as a reward for letting law enforcement officers stop vehicles if they suspect occupants are not wearing seat belts.

A summary of tax and fee increases recommended by Gov. Jim Doyle and Assembly Democrats can be found here at the state's Web site.A summary of budget changes developed by Assembly Democrats can also be reviewed on the Web.


Copyright (c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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