UPDATE: Lawmakers debating state budget - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

UPDATE: Lawmakers debating state budget

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MADISON (WAOW) -- Lawmakers began debate over the two-year $66 billion budget began Wednesday afternoon—more than a day late.

This is Gov. Scott Walker's first budget. It balances a $3.6 billion shortfall without raising taxes. But it also makes deep cuts to public education, making it a contentious issue. Already Wednesday afternoon, several protestors had to be removed from the capitol for either interrupting the proceedings or breaking other gallery rules.

Opening statements lasted two hours with lawmakers on both sides reiterating what they've said throughout this entire budget process. Republicans say it's a path to fiscal responsibility.

"We both believe that this budget should be all about middle class and working families, and I am happy to report that it is," said Robin Vos (R-Assembly District 63). "We both believe we should be putting Wisconsin on a better fiscal path and I am also happy to believe that that is exactly what we are doing today."

But Democrats disagree.

"It is painfully obvious to most Wisconsinites that this budget is an attack on middle class families," said Peter Barca (D-Assembly District 64).

Democrats say they plan to introduce about ten packages of amendments to the budget on topics ranging from health care to education to tax credits. They say their suggestions would make the budget more compassionate and better for business. But they also say they're skeptical about whether the Republican majority will approve them.

Republicans have already said they intend to make some changes to the budget, including not expanding school vouchers to Green Bay. They're also allowing a University of Wisconsin-backed WiscNet program that pays for broadband internet services to continue using about $40 million in federal funds. Republicans also plan to exempt transit workers from the law limiting collective bargaining rights from public workers.

In another change, county road crews could continue to do their own road work instead of being forced to hand over larger projects to private contractors.

Meantime, Gov. Walker signed a bill earlier Wednesday reworking the state's finances. The bill is designed to account for delays in savings from his union law, which the State Supreme Court ruled Tuesday can go into effect.

Updated reports show the state will collect $636 million in extra revenue. The new law will take almost a third of that and replenish a fund the state used to balance its budget in 2007.

"For years, if not decades, in many cases in both political parties, we've seen too much of a deference, deferring tough decisions now and failing to pay off the bills," said Walker. "What we're doing today is cutting up those credit cards, first step in cutting up those credit cards, and paying the bills."

Among other things, the new law also gives state agencies some breathing room by decreasing the amount of money they have to cut by July.

Online Reporter: Daniel Woodruff

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