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Wisconsin Assembly gets 1st crack on state budget

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Wisconsin Assembly

MADISON — The Wisconsin Assembly gets first crack at the $76 billion state budget Wednesday, beginning debate on the two-year spending plan that’s more than two months late but could quickly be sent on to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

The Republican-controlled Assembly planned to vote on the budget before midnight Wednesday, setting up a possible final vote in the Senate this week or early next. Democrats in the Legislature don’t have the votes to stop it. Legislative approval would send the budget to Walker, who was expected to sign it and issue vetoes in the coming weeks.

The budget up for debate largely mirrors what Walker introduced in February and comes before he runs for re-election next year. The budget sends $639 million more to K-12 public schools, freezes tuition on University of Wisconsin campuses, raises fees on electric and hybrid car drivers and borrows $400 million more for roads.

It also holds the line on property tax increases, cuts taxes for small businesses and imposes new work and drug testing requirements on public aid recipients. The proposal makes it easier to qualify for both the statewide private school voucher program and special needs voucher program.

State workers would get 2 percent pay increases in each of the next two years.

All prevailing wage requirements would be eliminated under the budget. The law sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects. The Legislature in 2015 eliminated the prevailing wage for local government projects, but the budget would do away with it for state projects, as well.

It doesn’t raise gas taxes or come up with a long-term funding solution for roads. Several Walker proposals, including an income tax cut, sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases and move to self-insurance for state workers, were rejected by the Joint Finance Committee.

Even though the budget was supposed to be in place by July 1, spending has continued at current levels during the impasse. Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly were hung up largely on how to plug the $1 billion road-funding gap. Ultimately, they largely sided with Walker’s approach to delay projects and borrow more, rather than raise gas taxes to come up with more cash to complete major highway construction work around Milwaukee and elsewhere.

Voting on the budget comes as the Legislature this week is also separately considering a $3 billion incentive package for Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group. That proposal is slated to win final approval in the Assembly on Thursday, sending it to Walker.