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State budget debate begins in Assembly

MADISON (WRN)  Now that the public hearings and lengthy Joint Finance Committee process has wrapped up, Wisconsin’s proposed two year state budget heads to the full Legislature today. The Assembly will be the first chamber to take up the bill, with the Senate expected to consider the measure later this week.

Contrary to the typical all night sessions that often accompany debates over major legislation in the Assembly, Republicans and Democrats have agreed to a schedule that could actually see the budget passed out of the chamber during daylight hours. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) says the current plan is to begin debate today and then end in the early evening, with consideration of the measure picking up again on Wednesday morning.

While a time table for the discussion is in place, it’s still likely to be a contentious two days for the chamber. Democrats are expected to roll out a long list of amendments for the $70 billion state budget, which will push for changes on everything from school funding to bail bonds. Barca says “our intent is to try and segregate the debate” so Democrats can focus in on each aspect of the budget through the course of the floor session.

Whether any of those changes will get through remains to be seen though. Republicans hold a 10 seat majority over Democrats in the chamber, making it almost certain that any Democratic amendment will be defeated. Barca admits it’s “pretty uphill,” but he remains hopeful that some changes could be made when the Senate considers the bill later this week. Democrats believe there is a push from some moderate Republican senators to at least remove a proposed statewide expansion of the private school voucher program. Barca expects the budget bill will end up coming back to the Assembly, so members can approve changes made in the Senate.

Republican leaders in both chambers, along with Governor Walker, have said they expect the state budget to pass the Legislature without any major changes from the version approved by the Joint Finance Committee.