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Assembly preps for state budget debate

Paul Snyder
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State Assembly members are preparing for a round of amendments to remove controversial state budget items such as prevailing wage requirements and the joint and shared liability motion.

Assistant Assembly Minority Leader Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, did not predict the specific targets but said there will be amendments to remove nonfiscal policy items from the budget.

“There will also be amendments on earmarks and items relating to tax and fee increases,” he said. “I think people are fully starting to digest what the Joint Finance Committee passed and are calling their legislators to tell them what they think.”

The Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. would welcome the removal of the prevailing wage measure, said Jim Boullion, the organization’s government affairs director. The AGC opposes prevailing wage rule recommendations such as expanding the wage to off-site fabrication work for pipes and sheet metal. It also opposes a requirement that contractors send monthly electronic payroll reports to the state Department of Workforce Development.

Boullion said the prevailing wage discussions should be part of a separate bill so those interested can testify in support or opposition.

The state surveys contractors annually to find how what they pay workers on private projects. It uses the results to set the prevailing wage for each county.

Boullion said it is unlikely all recommendations made by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance will remain in the budget, but he did not predict how deep the cuts could be.

“It still seems like there’s a lot of nibbling at the edges,” he said.

Assembly Democrats on Thursday met with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to discuss several budget items, and party caucuses likely will be held Monday and Tuesday to discuss budget changes.

Rebekah Sweeney, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said the finance committee did an excellent job, but Sheridan is committed to listening to other ideas.

And not all Democrats are happy with the committee’s recommendations.

“It would have to change dramatically for me to support it,” said state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc.

“This budget tramples on the business climate. It fatally threatens it, and there are a number of things that just plainly don’t belong in (the bill).”

Among the business threats, Ziegelbauer said, is the motion to reduce the joint and shared liability threshold for reimbursement from 51 percent to 20 percent. He also cautioned against the proposed oil franchise fee, which would tax gross receipts of oil companies doing business in the state and prevent the companies from passing the tax on to consumers.

Ziegelbauer said the notion the state can control business operations through an oil-franchise fee insults taxpayers’ intelligence.

“Can you repeal the law of gravity, too?” he asked. “How can you say you’re going to make the world work a certain way?”

Sweeney said Sheridan wants the Assembly to follow a firm timetable and do its part to have the budget completed by the end of the month. If the Legislature meets that deadline, it would be the first time a state budget has been delivered on time since 1974.

But even though Ziegelbauer said he is skeptical of the budget and expects Democratic debate in the Assembly, he conceded it does not necessarily foreshadow major budget changes.

“If you can get 50 votes,” he said, “you can pass it.”

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