- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state Assembly was poised Wednesday to pass and ship the state’s $73.3 billion budget to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature as he prepares to announce his 2016 presidential campaign.

The Republican-controlled Assembly planned to vote on the budget around 11 p.m., but debate was interrupted for about two hours while police checked out what they called a “credible” bomb threat. The entire building and the grounds, where people were gathering for an outdoor concert, were evacuated beginning shortly before 4 p.m. and re-opened about 90 minutes later.

Capitol police gave the all-clear but said due to an ongoing investigation more details would not be immediately released.

The break in debate was expected to push the final budget vote into early Thursday morning.

The two-year budget is a staggeringly broad document that affects all levels of state government and state law and is easily the most significant bill the Legislature passes each session. Minority Democrats started ripping the plan during a pre-debate news conference, calling it by turns “awful,” a “mess” and a “Dumpster fire.”

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, charged in his opening floor remarks that the budget was designed to help Walker curry favor with the GOP’s far-right wing in primary states. Walker is expected to launch his presidential run Monday.

“You broke it. It’s your budget. You own it. Unfortunately … we’re all worse for it,” Barca told Republicans.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Republicans expected such an attack, which he called completely off-base.

“What this budget is actually about is making sure we have Wisconsin in the right place,” Vos said. “This budget is good for Wisconsin.”

Walker introduced the budget in February and had hoped to have it completed quickly so he could easily sail into his presidential announcement. The Legislature’s finance committee spent the next few months revising the spending plan, but work came to a standstill at the end of May. The sticking points included resistance to Walker’s plan to borrow $1.3 billion for road projects; whether to insert language repealing the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires state and local governments to pay construction workers a minimum salary on public projects; and whether to commit public dollars to a new $500 million arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Things finally got moving again last week after Republicans decided to trim road borrowing to $850 million, end prevailing wage requirements on local governments and advance a separate bill committing $250 million in tax dollars to the arena. The Senate passed the budget late Tuesday night on an 18-15 vote.

Now, the Assembly is the last stop before the budget can go back to Walker, who can use his powerful veto powers to rewrite substantial portions to his liking before he signs it into law. It wasn’t clear whether Walker will finish the budget ahead of his Monday campaign announcement. Spokeswoman Laurel Patrick responded to questions about a timetable with an emailed statement saying Walker’s office will determine the date and time once the Legislature passes the plan.

The state is a week into the new fiscal year. Unlike other states where the government shuts down without a new budget, Wisconsin’s agencies continue at current funding levels. Key provisions in the budget include:

-Cutting $250 million from the University of Wisconsin System and freezing in-state tuition for the next two years.

-Lifting the 1,000-student statewide voucher school enrollment cap.

-Keeping funding for K-12 public schools flat during the budget’s first year; schools would get $69 million more in the second year but have to divert any additional aid they might receive to lowering property taxes.

-Revamping Family Care and IRIS, programs designed to keep the elderly and disabled out of nursing homes. The budget would allow for-profit managed care organizations to compete with nonprofit networks that currently provide long-term care and ordinary medical care.

-Drug screening for participants in public aid programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits; the screens could be used to force recipients to take drug tests.


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