Senator: Republicans have votes to pass Wisconsin budget

MADISON — Senate Republicans have enough votes to pass the state budget on Friday, a move that would end an 11-week delay and break a stalemate among the GOP that blocked a final vote, a member of the Legislature’s budget committee told The Associated Press.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said at least 19 of 20 Republicans plan to vote for the budget Friday, which would send the $76 billion spending plan to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. Seventeen votes are needed for passage. Republicans had been one vote shy of that entering the day, with four senators voicing objections they said precluded them from voting for the plan.

The apparent breakthrough came after three of the four — Steve Nass, Duey Stroebel and Chris Kapenga — met with Walker’s chief of staff Rich Zipperer, a former senator, on Friday. The start of debate was delayed at least two hours to facilitate the meeting. Walker has broad veto powers and could promise to cut something from the massive spending plan to secure their votes.

Walker, who is in South Korea on a trade mission, has also been personally involved in trying to broker a deal, said his spokesman Tom Evenson.

“Governor Walker made calls to senators from South Korea to listen to their concerns and reach a solution,” Evenson said. Walker told reporters on Wednesday he would be open to making changes to the budget to appease the Republican holdouts, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he would not vote on a new version of the plan.

The Assembly passed the budget late Wednesday night. Vos likened the Senate GOP demands for changes to a “ransom note” and said the Assembly would not be “held hostage.” Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke blasted the Senate holdouts on Twitter saying, “Let me be as clear as I can. Threats will not work. We will not blow up process for them.”

If the Senate amends the budget, the Assembly would have to vote again, but that may not happen until October.

The massive bill dictating spending for K-12 schools, Medicaid, the University of Wisconsin and the rest of state government must pass both the Senate and Assembly in identical form before it can go to Walker for his signature.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said the fact the Republicans had difficulty getting the needed 17 votes “demonstrates the dysfunction that’s happening, the inability to govern.” She said Democrats remained united against the budget and had not been approached by Republican leadership to help broker a deal to pass it.

Kapenga, Stroebel and Nass — who are all from southeast Wisconsin in or near the Milwaukee suburbs — issued a list of demands on Wednesday to get their vote for the budget. Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, is also against it.

Republicans have touted the budget as full of good news, pointing to a nearly 6 percent increase in funding for K-12 schools, a tuition freeze at UW campuses and a small property tax cut.

Democrats have assailed the budget as a missed opportunity that benefits the wealthy since it would cut income taxes primarily paid by high earners but not reduce income taxes across the board or for poor working families as Walker had urged. They’ve also criticized it for lacking a long-term funding solution for roads projects thus further delaying work around the state and borrowing another $400 million.

Walker said Wednesday that the budget fulfills his goals of increasing funding for K-12 schools without increasing property taxes.