After a hectic two days of deliberation, with debate stretching into the early hours of the morning, the Wisconsin state Legislature approved the 2015-'17 state budget Thursday, which includes a $250 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System.
The state Senate voted first to approve the bill early Wednesday morning following almost 12 hours of debate. The body voted to add a provision reforming the state’s prevailing wage law, but opted to remove a controversial amendment that would have significantly altered the state’s open records law.
Undeterred by a late afternoon bomb threat which halted debate for almost two hours, the state Assembly followed suit in approving the bill Thursday morning.
State Senate narrowly approves budget
While it was unclear last week if Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had enough votes to pass the state budget in his chamber, the bill cleared the upper house of the Legislature 18-15 early Wednesday morning. Almost all Republican members voted for the bill, with state Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, joining his Democratic colleagues in voting against the bill.
“Today the Wisconsin Senate advanced a bill that I believe our members can be proud of,” Fitzgerald said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “While there is no doubt that this was a difficult budget, it was also a responsible one; by making some tough financial decisions, we ensured that the interests of Wisconsin’s hardworking taxpayers were protected.”
Fitzgerald praised the efforts of the Joint Finance Committee in reducing the proposed cut to the University of Wisconsin System to $250 million, $50 million less than Gov. Scott Walker’s original proposal.
The body added an amendment that would significantly reform the state’s prevailing wage law, adopting a plan authored by state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, that would change how the wage levels were set for contract employees. The plan, met with opposition by Democrats and labor supporters alike, was adopted on a 17-16 vote, with state Sens. Richard Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, and Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, joining the Democratic minority in voting against the plan.
“We need to make decisions that put more money in the pockets of working families, not less like repealing living wage and prevailing wage laws,” state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said in a statement criticizing the budget. “We have stagnant wages and a stalled economy. We can do better.”
The Senate did vote to remove an amendment added to the budget that would have allowed lawmakers to keep private information used in drafting legislation, as well as internal correspondences.
Earlier in the day it was revealed that Gov. Scott Walker’s office was involved with Legislative Republicans in developing the controversial proposal that was met with widespread opposition after it was released Thursday.
Assembly follows suit, sends budget to Walker
The state Assembly was next to approve the $73 billion budget, passing the measure on a 52-46 vote Thursday morning. The process was delayed after a “credible” bomb threat forced the evacuation of the Capitol, with Capitol and Madison police sweeping the building before clearing the way for debate to continue two hours later.
Twelve Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in opposing the budget, with members voicing concern about cuts to the UW System, SeniorCare and the addition of prevailing wage serving as the main sticking points.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, was especially critical of higher education cuts, calling higher education a “hallmark of the state.” State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, called the budget a “dumpster fire” and state Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, termed it the worst budget she’d ever seen.
Assembly Republicans, however, touted the budget as fiscally responsible.
“Just like every family budget, we are also making prudent financial decisions for our future,” state Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “This budget reduces the amount we borrow while wisely investing in needed infrastructure critical to growing our economy across the state.”
The budget will head to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk ahead of his expected presidential campaign announcement on Monday. Walker has not yet announced a date or location for the signing.