UPDATED: Budget heading for Walker's pen with no Democratic support; Siren remembers tornado of 2001Senate lawmakers worked until 10 p.m. Thursday and ultimately sent a $66 billion state budget to Gov. Scott Walker without a single vote of support from a Democrat. Also, Siren area residents recall tornado of 2001, 300 Guard troops return from Iraq today, and more state briefs.
MADISON -- A new state budget for the next two years was sent to Gov. Scott Walker Thursday evening without a single vote by the Democrats.
The Senate approved the $66 billion package on a 19 to 14 vote with all Republicans voting yes.
Minority Democrats again offered a host of amendments which the GOP struck down before passing the budget around 10 p.m. In the end, the Senate passed the identical budget that the Assembly approved around 3 a.m. Thursday.
Walker said he would only take a few days to consider possible line-item vetoes to the budget -– which includes business tax breaks to boost the economy and a basic tax freeze for almost everyone else. It also includes deep cuts in state aid to public schools and local governments plus reductions in a host of social programs.
"I am proud of the work done by the Legislature, which passed a budget today that isn’t built on accounting gimmicks, use of one time money for ongoing expenses or tax increases. The budget approved by the Legislature is an honest document that balances Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit so that our children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with mountains of debt in the future," said Walker in prepared remarks released late Thursday night.
"Moving forward, I plan on taking time over the next two weeks to review the changes made by the Legislature prior to signing the bill before June 30. I remain confident that the Senate and Assembly passed a budget that met and exceeded the goal of balancing the budget by cutting spending and not increasing taxes," he concluded.
Minority Leader Mark Miller said the budget “gives to those few who already have a lot, and it takes from those who have less.”
But Republicans said tough medicine was needed to put the state’s finances back on track and eliminate deficits both now and in the future.
Walker also promised not to use his line-item budget vetoes to expand Milwaukee’s private school voucher program throughout Wisconsin this fall. Assembly Republicans sneaked in a last-minute budget item at 2 a.m. yesterday which includes a formula for allowing school choice to expand up to 16 larger cities. It would only apply to Racine this fall, which was the deal made by GOP lawmakers earlier.
Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards feared that the Republican Walker would tweak the new budget formula to expand school choice right now. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie promised late Thursday the governor would not change the language and the program’s expansion would be limited to Racine and parts of Milwaukee County.
Lawmakers voted earlier to increase the number of Milwaukee kids who can get tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools and they can attend schools throughout Milwaukee County this fall. Meanwhile, Senate President Mike Ellis said he would draft a bill to prevent automatic expansions of the voucher program, and Assembly finance Chairman Robin Vos said he would co-sponsor the bill in his house.
Capitol police said 16 protestors were arrested for disorderly conduct during the Senate debate. Two were removed early on after they chained themselves to a railing in the gallery with bicycle locks.
The protest crowds are dwindling, and so are the restrictions for getting into the Capitol. Starting a week from Monday, all eight entrances will be open again. Metal detectors that were in place since late February will disappear, but when things heat up in the future, the administration department will have the authority to tighten up security once again. That’s part of a settlement reached Thursday in a lawsuit filed by the state’s largest employee union.
The suit was filed during the peak of the protests over the new state law that limits collective bargaining by public employee unions. The administration defied a judge’s order to resume full access. Until this week’s budget debate, six of the Capitol’s eight entrances were locked and security clearance was needed to get in.
The administration said it was justified in continuing the tight security, citing damage and threats. But this week, two more entrances were opened. And now that the Legislature has approved the state budget, Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said the time is right to open up the rest of the building.
Under the settlement, Rotunda protest rallies will still be allowed but signs cannot be put on sticks, and only employees can be in the Capitol after the building officially closes each day.
Provision limiting public official scrutiny stricken from budget
MADISON -- Wisconsin lawmakers did not kill a budget measure that makes it harder for people to see if their public officials have conflicts of interest.
The budget sent to Gov. Scott Walker Thursday night still makes people drive to Madison to look at ethics data from 2,500 state and local officials, despite the fact that Finance Co-chairman Robin Vos had said the restriction was removed as part of a final amendment to the budget approved by both houses yesterday.
Currently, people can have the reports e-mailed by the Government Accountability Board. Vos originally supported the proposed the tighter restriction, claiming his popcorn company lost business because his competitors were checking out his financial data. But Thursday, Vos said the e-mailed reports were meant to be continued, and if they’re not, he’ll ask Walker to use his line-item veto power to continue the status quo.
The budget change does loosen the reporting requirements a little. Officials would no longer have to report business income that’s less than $10,000 a year.
Madison Guard returning from Iraq today
MADISON -- About 300 Wisconsin soldiers are heading home from Iraq today. Members of the Army National Guard’s 147th Aviation Regiment will fly back to their home base in Madison
Gov. Scott Walker was to greet them along with a military band and hundreds of family members.
The soldiers have already had their debriefings in Texas, so they’ll be free to go after the ceremony.
They spent nine months in Iraq working on air operations that included attack missions and the movements of troops and cargo.
Friendship soldier is latest Wisconsinite to die
FRIENDSHIP -- An Army private from Adams County is the latest Wisconsinite to be killed in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon said Thursday that Ryan Larson, 19, of Friendship died on Wednesday when insurgents attacked his unit in Kandahar Province.
He was the senior class president at Adams-Friendship High School, where he graduated a year ago. He joined the Army right after that and was sent to Afghanistan in April.
Larson was also a wrestler in high school. His coach said he was driven to succeed and he always seemed to have a good time. Gov. Scott Walker said Larson “gave his life so that we may enjoy the blessings of a free society.”
Larson was part of the 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright in Alaska.
Siren residents recalling deadly tornado of 2001
SIREN -- “A Day of Thanksgiving” is planned tomorrow in Siren to observe the 10th anniversary of a tornado that killed three people 10 years ago Saturday.
The twister caused millions in damage and changed the look of the Burnett County resort community.
The town will observe the anniversary by holding a relay run will take place along the path of the F-3 tornado which injured 16 people and damaged dozens of homes and businesses.
Anniversary events also include concerts, art displays, prayer-and-remembrance service, and an effort to set a new world record for the most people dressed as sunflowers.
Scholarship fund will be retiring leader's legacy
MILWAUKEE -- A scholarship fundraising campaign at Marquette University raised over $43 million in honor of retiring school president Fr. Robert Wild.
More than 2,300 people contributed. Present and past Marquette trustees pledged and donated the bulk of the money, around $31 million.
The campaign exceeded its goals by 50%.
Wild said he wanted to make scholarships the focus of his final year in office, and he said the donations surpassed his wildest dreams. The totals were announced Thursday evening during a retirement send=off for Wild at the Bradley Center which over 800 people attended.
Wild will retire in late July after 15 years as Marquette’s president. The Rev. Scott Pilarz will become the new president.