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Speaker says no major budget changes on tap

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle addresses a joint session of the Legislature during his budget speech at the State Capitol in Madison in this Feb. 17 file photo. Behind Doyle is Assembly Speaker Michael Sheridan, D-Janesville (left to right), Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, and Speaker Pro Tempore Anthony Staskunas, D-West Allis. Sheridan said Tuesday that Democrats are not proposing major changes to the state budget.  AP Photo by Andy Manis

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle addresses a joint session of the Legislature during his budget speech at the State Capitol in Madison in this Feb. 17 file photo. Behind Doyle is Assembly Speaker Michael Sheridan, D-Janesville (left to right), Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, and Speaker Pro Tempore Anthony Staskunas, D-West Allis. Sheridan said Tuesday that Democrats are not proposing major changes to the state budget. AP Photo by Andy Manis

Scott Bauer
AP Writer

Madison (AP) — Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said Tuesday he does not expect Democrats to propose major changes to the state budget.

Sheridan said Democrats were discussing making “tweaks” to the two-year spending plan that passed the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee last month. The Assembly planned to start budget debate Thursday.

“If there’s tweaks that need to be made, we’re going to go ahead and make those,” Sheridan said. “But I don’t see any big changes from what was proposed.”

His comments come as pressure intensified from the business community and special interests who say they are hurt by the Democratic-written plan. On Tuesday, the state’s largest lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce delivered a petition with more than 2,100 signatures to Sheridan objecting to more than a dozen parts of the budget.

In particular, WMC singled out the proposal to raise income taxes on households earning more than $300,000 a year, increasing capital gains taxes and changing the state’s liability laws to make it easier for defendants to collect when multiple parties are at fault.

“The budget under consideration will hamper job creation in our state and prolong the recession,” said WMC President James Haney.

Sheridan defended the budget, saying 99 percent of families will see no tax increase. General sales and income taxes do not go up under the plan, but anyone owning a phone will have to pay a new 75-cent monthly fee and smokers will pay an additional 75 cents per pack.

Overall, taxes and fees would increase $2.1 billion under the budget, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

“We’re just trying to create tax fairness,” Sheridan said.

He accused WMC and other critics of “muddying the waters” with their attacks.

“You would expect that from WMC,” Sheridan said. “That’s their job.”

The $62.2 billion, two-year budget increases overall spending by 6.3 percent. However, that is due largely to $3.7 billion in federal stimulus money used to fund schools, Medicaid and other state operations. State tax dollar spending actually decreases 3.2 percent over the two years.

The Assembly had hoped to start budget debate Wednesday, but delayed it for a day because state Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake, was going to be out of state Wednesday due to the death of her mother-in-law.

The Senate is expected to start budget debate next week.

Democrats hold a slim 52-46 majority in the Assembly. It takes 50 votes to pass the budget, making every vote critical.

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