- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republicans aren’t focusing on what matters most to people in Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker is distracted by a potential presidential run, Democrats in the state Senate argued Wednesday as they laid out their agenda to increase the minimum wage and make college more affordable.

Many of the ideas Democrats are supporting have been repeatedly rejected by Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly. Republicans hold a 63-36 majority in the Assembly and an 18-14 edge in the Senate, with one Republican seat vacant.

Despite the lopsided numbers, Democrats said Wednesday they were hopeful Republicans would work with them on some of their priorities - including making broadband Internet more available in rural areas and improving mental health services.

Other Democratic initiatives include accepting federal money that Walker and Republicans rejected to pay for Medicaid, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, spending more on public schools, making private schools that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers more accountable, and making it easier for college students to lower debt.

“These are proposals that can move our state forward,” said Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said in a statement that the Democrats’ agenda “was little more than a rehashing of the same tired ideas that the voters overwhelmingly rejected in November.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he hoped to find common ground to work with Democrats on issues Republicans had identified as priorities.

Tanck also rejected the argument that Republicans were dodging issues important to Wisconsin families, saying they were working closely with Walker on his budget, which will address many of the most important policy issues facing the state.

Walker’s spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The first bill that Republicans introduced in both the Senate and Assembly this session dealt with school accountability. The Assembly version would force failing public schools to close, an idea that was widely panned at a public hearing last week. The measure’s supporters are rewriting the proposal.

The first bill voted on in the Senate this year was a constitutional amendment to allow justices on the state Supreme Court to select their leader, rather than have the chief justice be based on seniority.

Democrats pointed to those measures as examples of how Republicans were not in touch with what people truly care about.

“The focus should be all about providing opportunities to the people in Wisconsin, especially people who have been left behind,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.

Walker will release his budget plan on Feb. 3. He has talked in general about his plans for the next two years, but he’s not yet addressed in detail how he’s going to solve a state budget shortfall that could be as large as $2.2 billion.

Walker is coming under increased criticism from Wisconsin Democrats as he eyes a White House run. Walker is scheduled to be in Iowa and California this weekend, along with other potential 2016 hopefuls, to talk with influential conservatives.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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