Closed door budget negotiations by Democratic legislative leaders come in for harsh criticism, from Senate Minority Leader Scott Fizgerald Thursday night. Fitzgerald said the secrecy was far more extreme than anything the GOP ever did while in the majority. "I don't ever remember somebody going into . . . that office over there, and not coming out day after day after day, and not coming out with no word on what was being done," Fitzgerald said to Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker. "I don't remember that, maybe you do."
Fitzgerald's remarks came during a brief meeting of the budget conference committee, prior to an expected Senate vote on the long awaited $62 billion budget package. Senate and Assembly negotiators agreed to drop an oil franchise fee, part of Governor Jim Doyle's original budget proposal, as well as a controversial policy item which would have provided driving cards for illegal immigrants.
Still, the two year spending plan contains plenty for Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald to dislike, including some $100 million in new telephone taxes. Fitzgerald said that, when this budget is added to a tax inccrease passed by Democrats earlier this year, the majority party has been responsible for $5 billion in new taxes during the first five months of the legislative session. "As I said on the floor of the Assembly, this is a good old fashioned Democratic budget," said Fitzgerald, who calls the budget a a jobs killer which does nothing for the middle class.
Majority Leader Decker insists Democrats held the line. "There's no sales tax increase, there's no payroll tax increase, there's no across the board income tax increase, there's no gas tax increase, and we do a pretty good job of holding the line on property taxes," says Decker. "I understand your anxiety with some of these things, because we kind of turned tax policy more progressive in this state again."
"Where is Governor Doyle?" Rep. Fitzgerald asked. "Is he meeting with President Obama? Is he in D.C. again? We need to have a budget by June 30th, and I haven't seen Governor Doyle in a long time. Does he care?"
Doyle in fact has been urging lawmakers to get the budget to his desk by the end of the fiscal year on July 1st. The spending package bridges the state's projected $6.6 billion shortfall, but critics charge that relience on borrowing one time federal money will only lead to an even worse deficit crisis in another two years.
UPDATE: The state Senate voted 17-15 early Friday morning to approve the conference committee budget package. That action moves the bill to the Assembly, which could take it up as early as Friday night.