BY KEVIN LEE FOR THE WISCONSIN REPORTER – MADISON — Senate Republicans on Wednesday moved ahead with an amended version of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget adjustment proposal, even as their Democratic colleagues remained in Illinois.
Senate Republicans passed the revised proposal 18-1 following a committee meeting Wednesday night that drew top lawmakers from both chambers.
“The people of Wisconsin elected us to do a job,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement. “They elected us to stand up to the broken status quo, stop the constant expansion of government, balance the budget, create jobs and improve the economy.
“The longer the Democrats keep up this childish stunt, the longer the majority can’t act on our agenda,” he said.
The Assembly is scheduled to take up the amended measure at 11 a.m. Thursday, more than a month after Walker first made the budget plan public.
Fitzgerald said he had discussed an amended budget adjustment proposal with his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, ”in order to move this process along.”
State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, who signaled his opposition to the proposal when he introduced an amendment, was the lone dissenter.
Fourteen Senate Democrats walked out of the Capitol more than three weeks ago to prevent the Senate from having a quorum necessary to vote on Walker’s budget proposal.
The Wisconsin Constitution requires that 20 members of the Senate be present in order to vote on a proposal with fiscal elements. Senate Republicans only have 19 members and were negotiating with their Democratic colleagues to see if at least one of them would return to the chamber.
Instead, in a conference committee, Republicans opted to strip major fiscal elements from the governor’s original proposal, including $165 million of debt restructuring, a $134 million increase in Medicaid benefits to compensate for a growing number of caseloads and $19.5 million for Department of Corrections aimed at addressing a shortfall to adult program operations.
Scott Fitzgerald said he’s had conversations with three nonpartisan government bodies — the Legislative Council, the Legislative Reference Bureau and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau — to determine if the revised proposal could be voted on by a simple majority of the Senate.
Democrats opposed the original bill because it limits collective bargaining with unionized public employees to issues involving only wages. Any wage increases beyond the rate of inflation would require a public referendum.
The budget proposal also would require public employees to contribute more to their pensions and health care costs and require an annual vote to determine if state workers want to stay in their union.
A nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau summary of the revised bill indicated that the provisions requiring increased contributions from public employees and the annual union certification remained unchanged.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, criticized the governor and Republican lawmakers for taking away major fiscal elements of the proposal.
“It is a continuation of a pattern of naked abuse of power,” he said. ”They are so eager to take away the rights that people of this state have enjoyed for 50 years to be able to negotiate that they trample on democracy.”
Barca also hinted that the missing Senate Democrats will return to the Capitol on Thursday.
At 7:30 p.m. Capitol Police announced the Capitol was closing for the evening, even as hundreds of demonstrators crowded the Capitol Rotunda and dozens were banging on closed doors trying to gain entry.