MADISON — The Wisconsin Assembly prepared to pass the $76 billion state budget late Wednesday night even as the state Senate’s leader said he didn’t have enough votes to pass the two-year spending plan.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos pushed ahead with a vote anyway, saying he would not be “held hostage” by Senate Republicans who are seeking last-minute changes to the budget that is already 10 weeks late.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald emerged from a closed-door meeting with senators to say he still didn’t have the needed 17 votes, but he hoped to get there by Friday when the Senate plans to vote on the budget.
“I think the responsibility of governing has to settle in,” Republican Sen. Alberta Darling said after the meeting. She predicted reticent senators would come around the vote for the budget Friday, adding “It’s not perfect, no budget ever is.”
The proposal largely mirrors what Gov. Scott Walker introduced in February and comes as he is preparing to run for a third term next year. It increases spending for K-12 public schools by 5.9 percent, freezes tuition on University of Wisconsin campuses, raises fees on electric and hybrid car drivers, and borrows $400 million more for road projects. All prevailing wage requirements for state projects would be eliminated under the budget in September 2018.
Republicans control both the Senate and Assembly by their largest margins in decades but have struggled to find agreement on the budget, leading to its late passage. The spending plan was due on July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year, but Republicans spent the summer quarreling over how to pay for road work. Current spending levels continued during the impasse, lessening the urgency for Republicans to reach a deal.
Now, at least three GOP senators are withholding their support for the budget.
Sens. Steve Nass, Duey Stroebel and Chris Kapenga put together a memo saying they want amendments that would end the prevailing wage by Jan. 1; block the University of Wisconsin System from spending $4 million on diversity training for students and faculty; require municipalities to impose wheel taxes only if approved through a referendum; and raise the income eligibility limit for the statewide voucher school program from 220 percent of the federal poverty level to 300 percent.
Republicans control the Senate 20-13 but Fitzgerald needs 17 votes to pass anything.
Walker told reporters earlier Wednesday he would sign off on last-minute budget changes speeding up repeal of the prevailing wage and making additional DOT reforms. But Assembly Republicans made only small technical changes to the budget on the floor. None of the changes included anything addressing the Senate Republicans’ demands, raising doubt about whether the budget will clear the full Legislature this week.
“We are not going to allow individual senators to rewrite the budget,” Vos said.
While passage out of the Assembly remains all but certain, the only question was when the chamber would actually vote. Republicans agreed to let Democrats debate the spending plan for 12 hours. The floor session began at noon and Democrats were still taking turns bashing the budget as the clock ticked toward 7 p.m. Majority Leader Jim Steineke said he expected debate would go on until midnight with a vote to follow.
Democrats focused their criticism on tax cuts benefiting the wealthy rather than reducing taxes for the working poor, saying Republicans had “rigged” the budget against the middle class. They also highlighted the failure of Republicans to come up with a long-term funding plan for roads and jabbed the GOP for failing to line up votes in the Senate.
“I see that the Senate doesn’t have the votes yet,” Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland said. “You’re doing your most important job (passing a budget) and you can’t do it well. That’s disappointing.”
Republican Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, acknowledged the budget has taken longer than usual but funds the state’s priorities.
“This budget helps thousands of families throughout our state,” Nygren said on the Assembly floor.
Walker defended the proposed budget plan from Democratic critics, saying it fulfills his goals of increasing funding for K-12 schools without increasing property taxes.
It’s a safe bet that Gary Rudy won’t be caught with his pants down during Oktoberfest’s Maple Leaf Parade on Sept. 30, as he was before he was unveiled as parade marshal Wednesday.
Fortunately, Rudy’s lederhosen lapse occurred in the privacy of Oktoberfest’s chalet office instead of during the parade marshal festivities at Loggers Field in Copeland Park a few hours later. Few people saw the wardrobe malfunction.
Rudy jovially voiced an alibi involving something about buttons, suspenders and crossed straps to explain his plight. And he took it in stride when Torchlight Parade Marshal Tim Colgan quipped, “That’s the difference between the North Side and the South Side,” during the 3 p.m. press conference announcing the marshals at Copeland.
“He’s a great guy,” confided Colgan, so proud of his heritage that he calls the procession he will lead the North Side Torchlight Parade.
Colgan’s wife, Debbie, described her husband as a “true-blue North Sider” and said the “selections were awesome” of him for the North Side and Rudy for the South.
While Rudy and his wife, Theresa, are South Siders, the Colgans are in a mixed marriage, with her roots in the South.
“My brother always says I’m the only South Sider accepted on the North,” she said with a smile, although she added the qualifier with a laugh, “I’m sure that’s not true.”
Colgan, on the other hand, traces his North Side heritage to the births of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
The Colgans, who have owned Colgan Air Services at the La Crosse Regional Airport since buying it from the G. Heileman Brewing Co. in 1992, have made it into a family business, with Debbie working as accountant, son Christopher being chief pilot, daughter Kelly, president, and her husband, Derek Hammen, also working at the field.
Colgan, a graduate of Logan High School, joined the Army in September 1968 and went to Vietnam in 1969. He received the Bronze Star Medal for heroism in helping remove fellow wounded and fallen servicemen as a helicopter pilot undergoing enemy fire.
An avid angler and hunter, Colgan said he usually has been fishing instead of participating in Oktoberfest activities during the fall, but he will readjust his priorities as parade marshal.
Colgan, who now lives on French Island, expressed pride in being selected parade marshal, saying, “I’ve spent most of my life hanging around Copeland Park here.”
An Airfest board member, Colgan is on the pastoral council of St. James Parish, now serving as president, supports Freedom Honor Flight and has been inducted into the Boys and Girls Club Alumni Hall of Fame.
Rudy, a Central High School graduate who served in the Army National Guard’s 107th Light Maintenance Unit for six years, owns Rudy’s Drive In. His grandfather, William, opened his first A&W Root Beer stand in Chippewa Falls in 1933, and operated variations in different sites, including several in La Crosse, over the years.
The drive-in at 10th and La Crosse streets was built in 1966, with Gary’s dad, Dale, succeeding William before passing the tradition on to Gary.
Rudy, who was named the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year in 2012, is involved in a variety of state and local activities, including the WRA, Freedom Fest, ThunderRide for Juvenile Diabetes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Shelby Youth Baseball, The Pump House and the La Crosse Community Theatre, among others.
Rudy acknowledged a flood of emotions — “honored, excited, ecstatic, surprised” — at being selected to lead the Maple Leaf, adding, “You don’t go around doing things for a specific purpose — other than playing golf to get the ball in the hole.”
Asked about his success on the links, he said, “I do OK for somebody who doesn’t get out too often.”
Reflecting again on his selection, he said, jokingly, “I think they didn’t have anybody else.”
Wife Theresa said, “We’re definitely looking forward to it. We’ve got a lot of friends in Oktoberfest. It should be a blast.”