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Senate passes budget, sends it to Assembly

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed the $73 billion state budget just before midnight Tuesday, sending it to the Assembly after voting to repeal a prevailing wage law for local government projects, a move Democrats called an affront to the middle class.

The fight over prevailing wage — a law that sets a minimum salary for construction workers on public projects — had helped waylay the budget for more than five weeks as Republicans tried to broker an agreement that could win passage in both houses.

The Assembly, where Republicans have a 63-36 majority, was scheduled to vote on the budget Wednesday night, a move that would send it to Gov. Scott Walker before he is to launch his presidential campaign Monday. Walker has not said if he will sign the budget, or issue any vetoes, before the campaign launch.

“This budget is a continuation of an agenda we’ve seen fail over and over again, and there’s no reason to believe this time it will be any different,” said Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen in arguing against cuts to higher education and other Republican initiatives. “We can do much better.”

Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued a statement praising the plan.

“While there is no doubt that this was a difficult budget, it was also a responsible one,” Fitzgerald said. “By making some tough financial decisions, we ensured that the interests of Wisconsin’s hardworking taxpayers were protected.”

The budget passed on an 18-15 vote, with Republican Sen. Rob Cowles, of Allouez, joining all 14 Democrats against. Cowles said in a statement that he objected to the amount of nonfiscal policy items in the budget.

Budget debate began a week into the new fiscal year, but state government continued being funded at current levels. Republicans had hoped this two-year spending plan would move more smoothly since they control both the Senate and Assembly, allowing Walker to coast into announcing his presidential run.

But Republicans ran into a logjam in late May, unable to reach an agreement on prevailing wage, how much to spend on transportation and whether to go along with a $500 million funding plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

While Republicans reached a deal on prevailing wage, and how much to fund roads, they have not yet come to terms on the Bucks arena. That is being pursued as a separate bill, with no vote yet scheduled.

The vote on scaling back the prevailing wage was close at 17-16. Two Republicans, Rick Gudex and Howard Marklein, voted against the measure.

Republican supporters argued that scaling back the law would save taxpayers money and make it easier for smaller contractors to compete when bidding on public projects. Democratic opponents argued it would lower wages and hurt the middle class.

“We’re kicking in the teeth of Wisconsin workers,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee.

Associated Press writer Todd Richmond also contributed to this report.

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