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Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, enters the Assembly Chamber prior to a state budget address by Gov. Scott Walker at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Wednesday.


Three Republican state senators struck a last-minute deal with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday, allowing the state budget to pass after an 11-week delay. 

The Senate voted 19-14 to pass the two-year spending plan, sending it to Walker's desk more than two months after the start of the fiscal year. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the legislation puts the state's finances on "solid ground." 

Walker spoke with Sens. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield; Steve Nass, R-Whitewater; and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, on the phone from South Korea, where he is on a trade mission to promote Wisconsin as a place to do business, earning their support by agreeing to make changes to the budget with his line-item veto power. The senators issued a list of demands earlier in the week, vowing to vote against the budget unless some of their conditions were met. 

Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, voted against the budget, as did every Democrat in the chamber. 

Kapenga told reporters Friday evening the senators would disclose the conditions of the deal after the budget was passed. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, asked the senators to disclose the unnamed veto guarantees before lawmakers cast their votes, but his question went unanswered. 

According to a memo released after the vote, Walker has promised to do the following: veto a provision expanding the power of the state's Public Financing Authority, tighten restrictions on when school districts can hold referendums, remove the energy efficiency exemption to school districts' revenue limits, allow the state Department of Transportation to enact a policy that would "swap" a portion of federal funds with state dollars for some roads projects, make a full repeal of the state's prevailing wage law effective immediately and remove proposed changes to the Transportation Projects Commission. 

In a statement, Walker said he will also veto proposed changes to local regulations on quarry operations and a tolling implementation study.

The original list of requests included a provision to prohibit the University of Wisconsin System from spending tax dollars on training programs for "cultural fluency, diversity, sensitivity, white privilege or other similar political correctness concepts." That item was not included in the lists of promised actions released by senators and the governor Friday evening. 

By addressing their concerns through the veto process rather than amending the bill, the budget can go straight to the governor rather than being sent back to the Assembly, where Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said no changes would be approved.

"I don’t think anybody is extremely happy," Kapenga said. "Nobody loves this budget from the three who are going to vote yes, but again, it got us close enough to where we want to get this done, get the state moving again."

Kapenga attributed the last-minute holdup in part to a lengthy stalemate during which the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee did not meet for two months as the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate struggled to reach agreements on transportation and education funding. During that time, Kapenga said, discussions with lawmakers not on the committee also stalled. He refrained from responding directly to Vos's characterization of the budget being "held hostage" by Kapenga and his fellow holdouts. Vos also referred to the list of demands as a "ransom note." 

"I think if Joint Finance continued to meet through that time it really would have helped us be able to give a little bit more input," he said.

The new fiscal year began on July 1, but state government has continued to operate under the previous budget's spending levels. 

Joint Finance co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said she thinks the spending plan is "one of the best budgets" the Legislature has passed since she was elected to the state Senate in 1992.

Darling noted a Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimate that shows about 35 percent of the budget will go toward property tax relief.

Democrats introduced 17 amendments to the spending plan, all of which were rejected. Included in their proposals were measures to accept the federal Medicaid expansion, increase special education funding and eliminate a measure repealing the alternative minimum tax.

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"This is the largest budget in state history, but we’re underfunding our schools, we don’t have a long-term fix for our road problems, and we're giving more tax breaks for millionaires at the expense of hard-working middle-class families," said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, characterized the bill as part of "Gov. Walker's slash and crash approach to handling the state's finances."

The $76 billion spending plan, approved late Wednesday night by the state Assembly, includes a $639 million funding boost for K-12 schools, allows low-spending districts to raise their revenue limits and raises income limits for participation in the state's taxpayer-funded voucher program. 

It imposes new fees on electric and hybrid vehicle owners and fully repeals the state's prevailing wage law, which sets minimum pay requirements for construction workers on public projects. 

The budget eliminates the state's portion of the property tax, known as the forestry mill tax, and a portion of the personal property tax applying to machinery, tools and patterns not used for manufacturing. It also eliminates the alternative minimum tax and offers tax breaks to business owners. 

Tuition at UW System schools will remain frozen, and the system will receive $26.3 million in performance based funding. UW schools will be required to monitor teaching workloads for faculty and other instructors and make that information public.

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the budget, along with a $3 billion incentive package for the manufacturing company Foxconn, would leave a structural deficit of just shy of $991 million by 2021.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.