Following a marathon debate that included lawmakers being briefly evacuated from the Capitol, the state Assembly passed Wisconsin’s biennial budget bill early Thursday morning. The roughly $73 billion two year spending plan passed on a 52-46 vote, with 11 Republicans joining minority Democrats in opposing the legislation.
The debate got underway just before noon on Wednesday, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) setting the tone for Republican arguments in favor of the plan, saying “this budget is for everyone in Wisconsin.”
Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said the plan takes Wisconsin far to the right though, as Governor Scott Walker prepares to launch a presidential bid. The Kenosha Democrat warned Republicans they were close to taking Wisconsin off a cliff, while noting that “while the governor may be first in Iowa…he’s at 41 percent approval in this state, and I think it’s only going to go down.”
Rep. Diane Hesselbein (D-Middleton) described the proposal as the “worst budget ever,” while Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) accused Republicans of “declaring all-out war on Wisconsin’s core values.”
Many Democrats argued Republicans were catering to special interest groups and big donors to their campaign with many of the budget’s provisions. Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) countered though that the people served by the budget include “parents, students, teachers, and school districts.”
Democrats introduced dozens of amendments, which included measures that would have required the state to accept federal money to expand its Medicaid programs, restored cuts to the University of Wisconsin System, and required background checks for teachers in private vouchers schools. Republicans rejected those, passing the budget without any changes from what the state Senate approved on Tuesday.
The debate was interrupted at about the four hour mark by what Capitol Police called a “credible bomb threat” on the building. It prompted an evacuation that lasted nearly two hours, with lawmakers spreading out to restaurants on the Capitol Square for what some called a “bipartisan beer summit.” They returned to the building after the all-clear was sounded, resuming debate just after 6 p.m.
The budget bill now heads to Governor Scott Walker, who has not yet indicated when he plans to sign the measure.