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Wisconsin budget could pass with extraordinary speed

Democratic and Republican leaders on Monday said they’re not quite sure how many – or what types – of amendments will be offered when the state Assembly debates the budget bill.

One thing is for sure, though. Republicans seem poised to pass the budget with unusual speed.

Unlike previous budget cycles that have languished for months – and surpassed deadlines – Republicans say this budget will pass well before the June 30 deadline, and quite possibly by the end of this week.

The Assembly is set to debate the budget late Tuesday afternoon in extraordinary session, which Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald says will remove gimmicky delay tactics – like the Senate Democrats’ February trip to Illinois – from the table.

“We’ve seen now the partisanship that’s there, and the problem is that June 30 deadline looms,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to get an on-time budget, a good budget, that is done in the light of day and passed on time.

“If there are any objections to our budget or any objections to messaging it over to the Senate, and the senators doing the same thing – or, God forbid, walking out on a budget – it would delay that, so an extraordinary session would give us the tools to send it over to the Senate right away.”

Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, shrugged off the notion that Democrats would try to delay the budget and stressed that protesters should not be disruptive. Barca also blasted the budget, saying it hurts Wisconsin’s middle class.

“Obviously, there are a number of areas we will be bringing forward alternatives to this budget, clearly in the education arena,” Barca said.

What Barca couldn’t do, though, was spell out more clearly what changes Democrats hope to make, or how they hope to accomplish them with Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

“At this point, we’re not even clear what’s in (the budget),” Barca said. “All we can do is put forward policy changes. Hopefully (Republicans will) respond accordingly.”

Fitzgerald, though, said Democrats have failed to offer an alternative budget, which would allow Republicans to review potential changes.

Besides, Republicans mostly seem happy with the budget as it is. Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, pointed to analysis that shows Wisconsin in two years could be in the best financial shape it has seen in more than a decade.

“We will actually be balanced and in the black for the first time in my legislative career and almost every legislator inside the building,” Vos said. “We are going to have no structural deficit, and we think there is the possibility of actually putting some money in the bank for a rainy day.”

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