All-Nighter: Assembly Passes Budget
MADISON - When Democrats took control of the state Assembly this year for the first time since 1994, they talked a lot about working with Republicans like never before to help balance the worst state budget shortfall in Wisconsin history.
But when that Democratic plan passed early Saturday morning, after about 12 hours of debate, not a single Republican voted for it. And there were virtually no signs of bipartisanship. More than 100 amendments brought by Republicans were rejected.
Democrats accused Republicans of not being willing to work with them or offer their own plan for addressing the $6.6 billion shortfall. Republicans said there wasn't genuine interest from Democrats for their input.
"I'm a little disappointed it hasn't gone nearly as well as I'd like it to," said Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville.
There was some bipartisanship in the final 50-48 vote, with Democratic Reps. Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc and Peggy Krusick of Milwaukee joining 46 Republicans in opposition. Forty-nine Democrats voted for it, along with Rep. Jeff Wood, an independent from Bloomer.
One Democrat, Rep. Nick Milroy of Superior, was absent to be with his hospitalized wife.
The $62.2 billion spending plan includes $2.1 billion in higher taxes and fees along with spending cuts that could lead to 1,400 state workers losing their jobs.
Democrats defended the budget as protecting middle class taxpayers by not increasing general sales or income taxes or payroll taxes. But Republicans said the middle class would be hurt through increasing property taxes and a variety of fee hikes, including a new 75-cent monthly fee on all phones.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to stop a number of hot-button issues that were included in the budget, including creating a driver's card for illegal immigrants and legalizing domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
There were a handful of places where Democrats and Republicans found some common ground.
They voted together to broaden the list of offenses that would not be eligible for a new program to grant early release for some prisoners. Offenses that would not be eligible include carrying a gun in a school zone, kidnapping, strangulation, mutilating a corpse and felony murder.
They also agreed to remove a couple items that were in the version of the budget that passed out of the Democratic-controlled Joint Finance Committee last month.
One proposal would have changed the state's liability law to make it easier to collect damages in cases where more than one party is at fault. Trial attorneys and Doyle pushed the change, but the business community and Republicans opposed it. Doyle has since backed off the issue.
The other would have prevented hunting, fishing and trapping on some land protected under the state's stewardship program.
Other changes to the committee's version included allowing oil companies to pass along a new tax up to 4 cents per gallon at the pump, restoring money to the Department of Justice, reducing the number of students who can participate in the Milwaukee school choice program, and eliminating a requirement that schools give rides to all pregnant students.
"It hasn't been easy," Sheridan said just before the final vote. "Democracy isn't easy."
The budget is far from a done deal. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to vote on it next week. If its plan differs from the Assembly, then a special committee of lawmakers will have to reach a compromise that would then go to Doyle for his consideration.
Doyle can also make additional changes through his veto.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)