budget fitzgerald (copy) (copy)

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott L. Fitzgerald talks about a deal to pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks at a news conference June 4. Looking on are Gov. Scott Walker, second from right, and Wisconsin Speaker of the House Robin Vos, right.

PHOTO BY ASSOCIATED PRESS

The process to pass Wisconsin's two-year budget has been nothing if not unpredictable.

Less than a week ago, the Assembly was set to take up the budget first, and the fate of efforts to change the state's prevailing wage laws was unclear.

But Tuesday, with less than 24 hours' notice, the Senate is in session, set to take up the budget, a prevailing wage package, a 6 percent raise for state troopers and a new compensation plan for other state workers.

What changed?

"We got the votes," said Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, whose prevailing wage package would repeal the law for all local government projects. "I think we got the votes, and that's why we're moving forward and moving first."

Senate Republicans are expected to introduce Lasee's proposal as an amendment to the budget. Lasee said he expects one or two GOP senators to vote against his plan and against the budget as a whole, but that he believes both have enough votes to pass on Tuesday. 

It's unclear how the proposal will fare in the Assembly, but Lasee was optimistic about its chances and said the Senate vote will put pressure on the other chamber to act.

"Assembly leadership had been saying that we were the weaker house, that we wouldn’t be able to pass this reform or any real meaningful reform. They offered a much weaker package, but we are able to pass this and I think we’ll see that today," Lasee said.

Lasee said thinks his plan offers a "strong compromise."

"It's a good reform package," he said. "It moves the ball forward and I think it's going to have real benefit to property taxpayers and to small business owners."

There is no question Democrats will vote against both the prevailing wage changes — which they say will lower wages for workers — and the budget in its entirety.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, slammed the document in advance of the session with Joint Finance Committee members Sens. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

"This budget was carefully crafted for one person who happens to be running for president," Shilling said. "It does nothing to invest in Wisconsin's best resources, and that is its people."

Republicans are expected to introduce a handful of other changes to the budget, including two controversial items approved by the Joint Finance Committee late last week.

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Lasee said it's his understanding that Republicans will abandon proposed changes to the board overseeing state's retirement system, which would have left the board completely made up of state lawmakers. Lasee, a co-chair of the committee, said he things the change would be a bad idea in the long-term.

A group of proposals that would gut the state's open records laws, passed by the Republican majority on a party-line vote, is to be entirely removed, according to Republican leadership.

Erpenbach was skeptical prior to the start of the session, noting that Democrats hadn't yet seen a fix from Republicans. He said it's no coincidence the changes were introduced the same day Walker registered his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.

"There is a direct connection there," Erpenbach said.

When pushed to give a timeline for his presidential announcement, Gov. Scott Walker has said for months that he won’t announce a decision about his intentions until after the state budget is complete.

With Walker set to announce his candidacy for president on July 13, could that deadline still be met?

Like Kevin Garnett once said, "Anything is possible." 

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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.