State lawmakers to begin final budget debate

Assembly to debate on Tuesday, Senate expected to take up budget on Thursday

MADISON, Wis. - State lawmakers will begin the final stretch of debate on the state budget this week.

Republican leaders who worked out the final deal in the Joint Finance Committee seem confident that their plan will stay as-is, but some moderate Republicans are seeking changes to the two-year spending plan and Democrats are urging Republicans to join them in a no vote.

"It only takes knocking on two doors to get good amendments into this budget," said Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.  "We're here to put out a welcome mat to those senators to put their money where their mouth is."

At least two Republicans in the state Senate are looking for changes -- Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay.

Schultz said a private school voucher expansion, a tax cut that expands the state's structural deficit and various policy items need to come out before he'll vote for the measure.

"I'm trying not to draw a line in the sand, so there is flexibility," said Schultz.  "I'm waiting for some proposals, as is Sen. Cowles, from our leadership as to what they can do to bring us on board."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said there will be a technical amendment in the Assembly to make small changes before the bill moves to the Senate, with the goal of keeping the finance committee's version intact.

"That's our goal right now," said Fitzgerald.  "I'd like to know everything will go just as planned, but sometimes it doesn't."

Gov. Scott Walker spoke after an event in Prairie du Sac Monday. He said he believes late changes to the budget are just talk.

"They've said that for months and said that would change in the finance committee and it hasn't," said Walker.  "There may be some tweaks, there's a couple issues with things that Sen. Cowles has.  I think those are things we could more than accommodate and work through, but I don't think you're going to see a substantive change."

Cowles declined to do an interview with WISC-TV Monday, but the governor and majority leader said they continued to work with him and Schultz on whether some of their concerns could be addressed in that technical amendment.

The Assembly will begin debate on the budget Tuesday and into Wednesday. The Senate is expected to take it up Thursday.

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