Wisconsin Assembly passes two-year budget early Thursday

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 16, 2011 12:18 PM
Wisconsin Assembly passes two-year budget early Thursday

MADISON, Wisc (Reuters) - The Republican-controlled Wisconsin state Assembly approved a two-year $66 billion state budget that cuts spending early on Thursday morning, sending the bill to the Senate where it may be debated soon, lawmakers said.

The vote on the measure was 60-to-38 along party lines and came at about 3 a.m. local time, following a debate on the floor that stretched for nearly 13 hours.

The legislature had previously passed a budget repair bill for fiscal 2011 ending June 30, which included tough curbs on public union collective bargaining demanded by newly elected Republican governor Scott Walker that prompted huge public protests from teachers and other public employees.

Those provisions were passed separately in a parliamentary move that was challenged in courts but upheld this week by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Unions have since filed a lawsuit to try to block the curbs once again.

A single omnibus amendment from Republicans to the collective bargaining changes was adopted in the early morning vote. The measure included several changes, such as exempting transit workers from the new collective bargaining law, maintaining a rural broadband program, and removing a school voucher provision for Green Bay.

Democrats offered nearly 40 amendments aimed at restoring funds to areas earmarked for cuts such as education, health care, and public assistance programs. All of them were tabled by Republicans, blocking them.

In the overnight debate, Republicans defended the budget plan, saying it made hard choices necessary to balance the state budget and to get Wisconsin back on the path toward creating jobs and growing the economy.

Democrats repeatedly argued that it sets Wisconsin on the wrong path, and puts the heaviest burden on the middle class and working poor.

State Representative Dean Kaufert, a Neenah Republican, said he has concerns about the budget but felt it takes the steps needed to wipe out the state's $3 billion structural deficit in just one budget. Kaufert said the idea of that quick result "blows his mind."

The Democrats said the bill chose tax cuts for corporations and expensive road projects over providing adequate funding for education and helping the neediest residents of the state.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Kenosha Democrat, said the bill was a mistake that will permanently hurt families in the state and goes against Wisconsin's values and traditions.

(Reporting by Jeff Mayers and Andrew Beckett. Editing by Karen Pierog and Peter Bohan)