Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, center, answers
questions at a news conference prior to the Assembly
debating the state budget on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in
Madison, Wis. Also pictured are Majority Leader Scott Suder,
left, and Rep. John Nygren, right, co-chairman of the budget
Republicans privately negotiated a series of last-minute changes
to the Wisconsin budget Tuesday designed to smooth its passage,
including removing a cap on a popular tax credit program for
disabled veterans and delaying the loosening of requirements for
discussed among Republican legislative leaders in both the Senate
and Assembly, were announced throughout the day but never formally
introduced. After only 15 minutes of debate on the two-year, $70
billion spending plan, the Assembly quit work for the day so
Democrats could be briefed on the Republican changes before
resuming Wednesday morning.
ready to debate this bill and we still don't know what's in the
bill," Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said as his
caucus prepared for a briefing with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
"It seems like it's changing by the minute."
None of the
changes Republicans announced got to the heart of the biggest
budget issues that have generated the most heat from Democrats and
moderate Republicans — namely the growth of private school
vouchers statewide and the rejection of federally funded Medicaid
touches the lives of nearly every person in the state. It would
cut income taxes for all tax filers by $650 million over two
years, expand statewide private school vouchers currently only
available in Milwaukee and Racine, and tighten income eligibility
under Medicaid, forcing nearly 90,000 people into federally
subsidized exchanges to purchase insurance.
It also would
allow for the selling of public properties, freeze tuition at the
University of Wisconsin for two years, require DNA to be collected
upon arrest for a felony or conviction of any crime, and allow
bail bondsmen to operate in the state.
"I am proud
of what we're doing," Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos
said at a news conference before debate started.
Vos said the
changes to the plan the Assembly would be voting on were worked
out as part of an agreement designed to ensure the budget passes
both houses. Clearing the Assembly, where Republicans hold a 60-39
majority, was never in doubt. But in the Senate, where Republicans
have a narrow 18-15 edge, moderate Republicans were actively
announced by Vos would delay a provision that would make it easier
for big water users to get permits to drill high-capacity wells.
Another would remove caps on a property tax credit program
benefiting disabled veterans.
A third would
give the state Department of Natural Resources the authority to
pass an emergency rule restricting public access to land near Lake
Superior where protesters have attempted to interfere with
preliminary work to open a massive iron ore mine.
raised concerns about the changes, including wording that appeared
to restrict what information the state Department of Public
Instruction could release about voucher school students.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped changes being made
in the Assembly would satisfy concerns raised by some Senate
Republicans and lock up their votes. Sen. Dale Schultz, the most
vocal GOP critic, hadn't seen the Assembly changes.
"I have no
idea exactly what's in it," he said before the Assembly began
debate on the budget. "I imagine whatever's necessary to get
the budget passed is in it."
reiterated his concerns with key parts of the budget, including
expansion of the private voucher school program statewide, that
were not going to be changed by the Assembly. He declined to say
whether he would vote against the plan.
If two or more
Republican senators join with Democrats against the budget there
won't be enough support for it to pass the Senate.
Republicans, along with Democrats, had been calling for more
changes to the budget, including a scaling back of the voucher
expansion and acceptance of the Medicaid money. There were also
calls to reject a provision that would kick the Center for
Investigative Journalism off of the University of
Wisconsin-Madison campus, do away with the DNA collection
requirement and not allow bail bondsmen to operate in the state.
But no changes
were coming to those parts of the budget in the Assembly, Vos
said. He said Assembly leaders have worked in good faith with
Republican senators and he hoped the budget would not be changed
in the Senate.
Rep. Steve Nass,
R-Whitewater, announced on Monday he was voting against the
spending plan, in part because it creates a projected $500 million
shortfall at the end of the 2015-2017 budget cycle. He and 10
other Assembly Republicans had offered a letter raising objections
to various provisions.
"If you are
a conservative in Wisconsin and you choose not to vote for this
budget, I cannot see a scenario where you would ever vote for a
budget," Vos said. The budget gives Republicans 95 percent of
what they wanted, and any more than that can't be reasonably
expected, he said.
The high capacity
wells provision was one of the most controversial items added to
the budget by the Joint Finance Committee.
would block anyone from challenging high-capacity well
applications and permits by arguing the state Department of
Natural Resources didn't consider the cumulative impact of the
well and surrounding wells on the environment.
But the Assembly
planned to delay the change until July 1, 2014. Vos said it was
his hope that the Legislature would revisit the issue before then.
wells have long been a contentious issue in Wisconsin. They've
come to the forefront again in recent years with the growth of
businesses that use vast amounts of water, such as sand mining and
committee also voted to include a cap on a growing property tax
credit program for veterans.
placed a $2,500 limit on the amount of property taxes that could
be reimbursed to veterans who are fully disabled. The committee
also created a mechanism to drop higher-income veterans and their
spouses from the program.
Gov. Scott Walker
had called on the Legislature to fix the issue after veterans
groups called it shameful and said the budget was being balanced
on the backs of veterans.