MADISON, Wis. - Assembly leaders had planned on eight hours of debate on the budget Wednesday but it wasn't needed after Democrats decided to offer no amendments on the floor. The vote passed 55-42.
Republicans passed a technical amendment that made a few changes to the budget including not capping a property tax credit program for veterans, delaying the loosening of requirements for high-capacity wells, and reinserting a requirement into law that the Department of Transportation create cost-benefit analysis forms for some highway engineering projects.
"This amendment makes a budget which is definitely on the side of taxpayers even better," said Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington.
After that amendment passed, only the assembly minority leader spoke on the floor.
Democrats said they didn't believe any of their 211 amendments would have been accepted.
"There was almost nothing in their plan I agreed with, that we agreed with," said Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson. "This budget could not be fixed."
"We assumed that the democrats would fully engage with us to talk about why our budget was good for Wisconsin tax payers, unfortunately they decided to punt," said Vos. "I'm disappointed that our democratic colleagues thought so little of their jobs and the political process that they didn't bother to offer the contrasting view that they say they have."
Republicans were surprised by the move and called it a retreat.
"I don't think it was a tactic on their part, they just gave up," said Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford.
"We are hardly giving up. We are hardly giving up. We have many amendments that we are introducing as standalone bills, this fight are not over," said Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood.
The $70 billion budget would cut income taxes by $650 million, expand private school vouchers statewide and reject a federally funded expansion of Medicaid.
One of three Assembly Republicans who voted against the state budget says he had made up his mind a long time ago.
Rep. Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake said Wednesday that his "no" vote was because the budget contains too many non-fiscal policy items he opposes or didn't have time to understand.
Two other Republicans, Reps. Steve Nass and Howard Marklein, joined Kestell and 39 Democrats in opposition. Messages left for Nass and Marklein were not immediately returned.
Nass had promised earlier in the week to vote against the plan.
Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, said he disagreed with his caucus' strategy of not offering amendments Wednesday and is considering becoming an independent.
Hulsey offered one amendment on the floor Tuesday that was tabled.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Hulsey told him Tuesday he was considering a switch.
Hulsey was non-committal Wednesday.
"One of the things I've learned in my recovery is to take things one day at a time, so today I'm putting out my press release and my statement of what I did and focusing on what I have control over which is myself," said Hulsey, who gave no timeline for when he would make the decision.
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The Wisconsin Senate plans to debate the state budget on Thursday, and Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says no changes are planned.
Fitzgerald said Wednesday he thinks there are enough Republican votes in the Senate to pass it in its current form. Republicans hold an 18-15 majority, but some moderates have raised concerns with the expansion of private school vouchers and other elements.
The Assembly passed the budget Wednesday after only about 90 minutes of discussion. Democrats decided against offering any amendments or prolonging debate, saying there was no point, since Republicans weren't going to accept changes.
Fitzgerald says he expects the budget to pass Thursday after about 10 or 12 hours of debate. He says he is working with Senate Democrats on parameters of the debate.
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