UPDATE: Walker's budget passes, though most GOP opposition he's seen

UPDATED Thursday, July 9, 2015---11:36 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hoped a boosted Republican majority in his state legislature would lead to the budget passing quickly. It'd be the perfect kickoff to his all-but-announced presidential campaign.

Instead, the spending plan came to his desk Thursday with the most no votes he's seen from GOP lawmakers, who derided the spending plan as "crap."

Twelve Republican lawmakers voted against it, citing concerns over such things as school funding levels and borrowing to pay for roads.

Walker still has plenty to campaign on when he officially launches his candidacy Monday. The budget includes no sales or income tax increases and property taxes are set to be lower in 2016 than they were when Walker took office.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Thursday, July 9, 2015---9:29 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- More Republican state lawmakers voted against the budget this year than has ever happened under Gov. Scott Walker.

Eleven Republican representatives and one senator voted against the spending plan before it got presented to Walker early Thursday. In 2011, not a single Republican voted against Walker's budget and just three did in 2013.

That kind of lukewarm reception to Walker's signature piece of legislation does not give him the kind of momentum he had hoped for heading into the launch of his presidential campaign Monday.

Walker has not commented on the budget since it passed the Assembly.

But some Republicans who voted against it have issued statements, saying they objected to the level of education funding, repealing the prevailing wage for local government projects and borrowing to pay for transportation.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Thursday, July 9, 2015---8:04 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Eleven Assembly Republicans joined with 35 Democrats in voting against the Wisconsin state budget.

They are: Kathleen Bernier, Ed Brooks, James Edming, David Heaton, Scot Krug, Lee Nerison, Todd Novak, Warren Petryk, Keith Ripp, Travis Tranel and Nancy Vander Meer.

All Democrats voted against the $73 billion two-year spending plan. Rep. Chris Danou was absent for the early Thursday morning vote.

The Senate passed the budget 18-15 on Tuesday with Republican Sen. Rob Cowles joining Democrats in opposition.

Republicans have publicly groused about the budget as introduced by Gov. Scott Walker that cut the University of Wisconsin System by $300 million and had other divisive proposals.

But during Assembly debate Republicans said they improved the spending plan, which now heads to Walker for his signature and vetoes.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Thursday, July 9, 2015 --- 4:45 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin state budget is now in Gov. Scott Walker's hands.

The state Assembly early Thursday morning voted 52-46 to pass the $73 billion two-year spending plan. The Senate passed it on Tuesday.

The action means the budget is now before Walker, who can reshape it through line-item vetoes. Walker has not said when he plans to sign it. But quick action is expected given that he's launching his presidential campaign Monday and then embarking on a tour taking him to four early voting states.

Democrats blasted the budget for expanding the private school voucher program and cutting the University of Wisconsin by $250 million. But they didn't have the votes to stop it or get any changes approved.

Republicans say their budget is good for taxpayers.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press
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UPDATED: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 --- 4:36 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Republican-controlled state Assembly was expected to pass the two-year state budget Wednesday, which would send the $73 billion two-year spending plan to Gov. Scott Walker. The governor can use his powerful veto authority to edit or remove items before he signs it into law.

Here are some ways the budget could affect Wisconsin residents:

SCHOOLS

-- Public school funding: It won't be cut by $127 million as Walker proposed, but there won't be much more money. Funding would be flat the first year of the budget and go up by about $69 million in the second year, but schools aren't being given the authority to increase spending. That means if a district does get more aid, it will have to divert it to lowering property taxes unless voters approve a special referendum.

-- Vouchers: More students who meet income qualifications would be able to attend private voucher schools because the current 1,000-student statewide enrollment cap changes to no more than 1 percent of a district's total students. That would increase 1 percentage point a year for 10 years until there is no cap. Money to pay for voucher students would come out of public school aid. Also, students with disabilities who are denied open enrollment in another public school district would be able to use a voucher for private schools.

-- Ratings: A new five-star system would have no sanctions for poor performers. Federal law currently requires schools to take the same standardized test, but Wisconsin would seek a waiver to allow for schools to choose between three and five standardized tests to measure performance.

-- Civics test: Starting in the 2016 school year, high school students would have to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions on a civics exam before graduation. They could retake the test until they pass.

-- Sports: Home-schooled students would be able to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school.

-- Milwaukee schools: The worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools could be converted into independent charter or private voucher schools under control of a commissioner appointed by the county executive.

TRANSPORTATION

-- State would borrow $850 million for road projects, down from Walker's $1.3 billion proposal. That would mean delays in major highway projects and resurfacing and reconstruction work.

TAXES

-- Several changes are in the offing, including increasing the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly by $550, delaying the full phase-in of an income tax credit benefiting manufacturers and farmers, reducing the alternative minimum tax, allowing teachers to deduct up to $250 a year for classroom expenses and reducing taxes on hard cider. Property taxes would be held basically flat, and there are no increases in sales or income taxes.

PREVAILING WAGE

-- The law that sets a minimum salary for construction workers on public projects like road building and schools would be repealed for local governments but remain for state projects.

LONG-TERM CARE

-- Family Care and IRIS programs that strive to keep elderly people and those with disabilities out of nursing homes could be reshaped to allow for-profit managed care organizations to compete with networks of nonprofit groups that currently provide long-term care and ordinary medical care.

DRUG TESTS

-- Recipients of public aid programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits would have to undergo initial screenings for drug use and could be subjected to drug tests later.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

-- The university system's budget would be cut by $250 million and make it easier to fire tenured faculty. Also, faculty would have less of a role in making decisions. In-state tuition would be frozen over the next two years.

NATURAL RESOURCES

-- Fees for Wisconsin state parks would go up by $3 for annual admission and by $1 for daily admission. Camping fees for residents would increase $3 to $5 per night depending on a site's popularity; out-of-staters would pay an extra $5 to $8. The cost of an annual trail pass would go up $5.

-- There could be more places to backpack, ski or snowshoe. The budget committee authorized the state's stewardship program to borrow $9 million per year for land acquisition. That's down dramatically from $19.3 million next year and $22.2 million in each of the following fiscal years through 2020, however.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

-- Republicans eliminated Walker's plan to provide $55 million in Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. grants to regional groups for loans to businesses after a series of audits found WEDC has failed to track past-due loans, failed to follow state contract law and hasn't demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they've created jobs.

PRISONS

-- Prison towers would stand empty during the night, as 60 third-shift tower guard positions across 10 prisons would be eliminated, saving nearly $6 million. Those employees would be moved into other vacancies.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED Wednesday, July 8, 2015---12:24 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a bill that would give state troopers a 6 percent raise.

The body approved the measure 94-0 on Wednesday. The Senate passed the proposal on Tuesday. It now goes to Gov. Scott Walker.

The Assembly also passed a bill laying out a new two-year compensation plan for 31,000 other state workers that includes no general wage increases. Minority Democrats railed that the plan hurts hard-working state employees as well as local economies but the Republican-controlled chamber passed the measure anyway, 64-30.

The Senate passed that bill on Tuesday as well. It now goes to Walker, too.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Wednesday, July 8, 2015---8:54 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Assembly is poised to take up the state budget and move the spending plan to Gov. Scott Walker.

The Republican-controlled chamber is scheduled to convene at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and begin what's expected to be a nearly 12-hour debate on the $73.3 billion plan.

The Senate passed the budget just before midnight Tuesday after inserting provisions that would repeal the prevailing wage law for local government projects. The law requires the state and local governments to pay construction workers a minimum salary on public projects.

The question of whether to insert a repeal held up budget negotiations for a month.

Assembly approval would send the budget to Walker, who can use his powerful veto pen to dramatically rewrite the document before signing it into law.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Wednesday, July 8, 2015---8:10 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the two-year state budget Tuesday on an 18-15 vote.

The Assembly plans to debate the budget on Wednesday, sending it on to Gov. Scott Walker later this week. Walker can use his powerful veto authority to edit or remove items in the $73 billion two-year spending plan.

Here are some highlights of how the budget affects you:

PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Public schools won't be cut by $127 million as Walker proposed, but they also aren't getting much more money. Funding would be flat the first year of the budget, then go up by about $69 million in the second year, but schools aren't being given the authority to increase spending over the next two years. That means if a district does get more aid, it will have to divert it to lowering property taxes unless a special referendum is approved by voters allowing spending to go up.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS
There will be more opportunities for students who meet income qualifications to attend private voucher schools. The 1,000-student enrollment cap in the statewide program would be lifted, with the new lid set at no more than 1 percent of a district's total students, and that would increase 1 percentage point a year for 10 years until there is no cap. Money to pay for voucher students would now come out of public school aid.

SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS
Students with disabilities who are denied open enrollment in another district would be able to use a taxpayer-funded voucher for private schools.

RATING SCHOOLS
Wisconsin schools would be rated on a five-star system, but there would be no sanctions for poor performers. The state would also seek a waiver from the federal government to allow for schools to choose between three and five standardized tests to measure student performance. Federal law currently requires schools to take the same test.

CIVICS TEST
High school students, starting in the 2016 school year, would have to pass a civics exam before graduation. They would have to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions in the civics section of the test required for U.S. citizenship, and they could retake the test until they pass.

SCHOOL SPORTS
Home-schooled students would be able to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school. Originally, the committee had also expanded that to private, virtual and charter school students as well, but they backtracked Thursday.

TEACHER LICENSING
In its last meeting Thursday, the budget committee removed a provision that would have made Wisconsin the first state in the country to allow anyone with relevant experience, including high school dropouts, to be licensed to teach noncore academic subjects in grades six through 12. They also removed a provision allowing anyone with a bachelor's degree to be licensed to teach in core subjects of English, math, social studies or science.

MILWAUKEE SCHOOLS
The worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools could be converted into independent charter or private voucher schools under control of a commissioner appointed by the county executive.

TRANSPORTATION
Borrowing to pay for roads would be reduced from what the governor proposed by $350 million, leading to delays in major highway projects and resurfacing and reconstruction work. Ongoing work on the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee would not be stopped, but a third phase of the project would not begin as scheduled.

TAXES
Several tax changes are in the offing, including increasing the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly by $550, delaying the full phase-in of an income tax credit benefiting manufacturers and farmers, reducing the alternative minimum tax, allowing teachers to deduct up to $250 a year for classroom expenses, and reducing taxes on hard cider. Property taxes would be held basically flat over the next two years.

PREVAILING WAGE
The prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum salary for construction workers on public projects like road building and schools, would be repealed for local governments. It would remain for state projects.

SENIORCARE
Walker's calls to cut nearly $100 million from the popular senior citizen prescription drug program SeniorCare were rejected.

LONG-TERM CARE
Family Care and IRIS, programs that strive to keep elderly people and those with disabilities out of nursing homes, could be reshaped in a way that would allow for-profit managed care organizations to enter Wisconsin's market and compete with networks of nonprofit groups that currently provide long-term care and ordinary medical care. Opponents fear that would reduce options for enrollees and weaken the quality of care.

DRUG TESTS
Recipients of public aid programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits would have to undergo screenings for drug use that could subject them to drug tests later.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
The university system's budget would be cut by $250 million, it would be easier to fire tenured faculty, and faculty would have less of a role in making decisions under a weakening of the shared governance principle that national higher education experts say would make Wisconsin unique. In-state tuition would be frozen over the next two years.

HIGHER EDUCATION
The state will continue to look out for students attending for-profit colleges. The budget committee rejected plans to eliminate the Educational Approval Board, a 71-year-old state body that regulates for-profit institutions.

NATURAL RESOURCES
It will cost more to visit Wisconsin's state parks or hike along the state's trails. The budget would put an end to funding state parks with tax dollars and raise annual admission fees by $3 and daily admission fees by $1. Camping fees for residents would increase $3 to $5 per night depending on a site's popularity; fees for out-of-staters would go from $5 to $8. The Department of Natural Resources' secretary would have the discretion to raise those fees by another $5. Meanwhile, the cost of an annual trail pass would go up $5.

There might be more places to backpack, ski or snowshoe. Republicans rejected Walker's plan to freeze land purchases through the state's stewardship program. However, the budget committee did reduce the program's borrowing authorization for land acquisition to $9 million per year, down dramatically from $19.3 million next year and $22.2 million in each of the following fiscal years through 2020.

The DNR's board will still set the agency's policies. Republicans scrapped Walker's plan to strip the board of its powers and hand complete control of the agency to its secretary, a gubernatorial appointee.

The DNR will keep paying to remove road-kill deer on the state's highways. The budget committee rejected Walker's plan to shift carcass removal costs to local governments.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Businesses looking for a state-backed loan from a regional development organization will have to keep searching for other pots of money. Republicans eliminated Walker's plan to provide $55 million in Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. grants to regional groups for loans to businesses. The committee made the move after a series of audits found WEDC has failed to track past-due loans, failed to follow state contract law and hasn't demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they've created jobs.

PRISONS
Prison towers would stand empty during the night. The budget eliminates 60 tower guard positions across 10 prisons to reduce third-shift staffing and save nearly $6 million. The state Department of Corrections has said anyone currently filling those positions would be moved into other vacancies.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 --- 12:26 a.m.

The Wisconsin Senate has passed the budget, sending the $73 billion two-year spending plan to the state Assembly.

The budget passed on an 18-15 vote, with Republican Sen. Rob Cowles joining all Democrats in voting against it.

Republicans voted down a series of Democratic amendments during more than eight hours of debate, including attempts to increase funding for public K-12 schools and to eliminate a $250 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System.

Republicans defended the budget, which will keep property taxes flat, require drug screenings for public benefits recipients and expand the school choice program.

Democrats say the budget sets the wrong priorities and will weaken public education and the university system.

The Assembly plans to vote on the budget Wednesday night.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press
____________________________________________________

UPDATED: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 -- 10:05 p.m.

Madison, Wis. (AP) -- Senate Democrats have failed to remove a provision in the Wisconsin state budget that would allow workers to voluntarily agree to work seven-days a week without a day off.

Republicans on Tuesday voted down a Democratic attempt to remove the change from the two-year state budget. It had been added last week in the budget committee.

Under current state law, employers who own factories and retail stores must allow their workers at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven consecutive days. The requirement doesn't apply to janitors, security guards, bakeries, restaurants, hotels and certain dairy and agricultural plants.

The Senate was to vote on passing the full budget later Tuesday night or early Wednesday. The Assembly planned to vote on it Wednesday night.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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A Democratic proposal to restore a $250 million budget cut to the University of Wisconsin System has been rejected in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Democrats argued Tuesday that it would irreparably harm the university system to move forward with the cut backed by Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature.

But Republicans in the majority voted down the Democratic proposal to restore the cut. They argue that new flexibilities given the university will help it deal with the funding cut.

Walker had originally called for a $300 million cut but lawmakers have reduced that, while they also rejected Walker's call to make UW independent from nearly all state oversight and laws.

The budget being debated also freezes tuition for the next two years.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015

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UPDATED: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 --- 8:22 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican state senators have rejected the first two of 18 amendments Democrats have filed to the $73 billion state budget.

Republicans have a 19-14 majority in the Senate and are not expected to adopt any of the changes Democrats want to make to the two-year spending plan during debate that began Tuesday and was to run deep into the night.

The Assembly was to begin budget debate Wednesday.

One Democratic amendment to increase funding for public schools was among the first voted down by Republicans. Democrats are also trying to undo a $250 million budget cut to the University of Wisconsin and force private voucher schools to comply with more laws that apply to public schools.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015

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UPDATED: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 --- 8:18 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Republican-controlled state Senate began debate Tuesday of the two-year state budget.

The Assembly plans to debate the budget on Wednesday, sending it on to Gov. Scott Walker later this week. Walker can use his powerful veto authority to edit or remove items in the $73 billion two-year spending plan.

Here are some highlights of how the budget affects you:

PUBLIC SCHOOLS

-- Public schools won't be cut by $127 million as Walker proposed, but they also aren't getting much more money. Funding would be flat the first year of the budget, then go up by about $69 million in the second year, but schools aren't being given the authority to increase spending over the next two years. That means if a district does get more aid, it will have to divert it to lowering property taxes unless a special referendum is approved by voters allowing spending to go up.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS

-- There will be more opportunities for students who meet income qualifications to attend private voucher schools. The 1,000-student enrollment cap in the statewide program would be lifted, with the new lid set at no more than 1 percent of a district's total students, and that would increase 1 percentage point a year for 10 years until there is no cap. Money to pay for voucher students would now come out of public school aid.

SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS

-- Students with disabilities who are denied open enrollment in another district would be able to use a taxpayer-funded voucher for private schools.

RATING SCHOOLS

-- Wisconsin schools would be rated on a five-star system, but there would be no sanctions for poor performers. The state would also seek a waiver from the federal government to allow for schools to choose between three and five standardized tests to measure student performance. Federal law currently requires schools to take the same test.

CIVICS TEST

-- High school students, starting in the 2016 school year, would have to pass a civics exam before graduation. They would have to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions in the civics section of the test required for U.S. citizenship, and they could retake the test until they pass.

SCHOOL SPORTS

-- Home-schooled students would be able to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school. Originally, the committee had also expanded that to private, virtual and charter school students as well, but they backtracked Thursday.

TEACHER LICENSING

-- In its last meeting Thursday, the budget committee removed a provision that would have made Wisconsin the first state in the country to allow anyone with relevant experience, including high school dropouts, to be licensed to teach noncore academic subjects in grades six through 12. They also removed a provision allowing anyone with a bachelor's degree to be licensed to teach in core subjects of English, math, social studies or science.

MILWAUKEE SCHOOLS

-- The worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools could be converted into independent charter or private voucher schools under control of a commissioner appointed by the county executive.

TRANSPORTATION

-- Borrowing to pay for roads would be reduced from what the governor proposed by $350 million, leading to delays in major highway projects and resurfacing and reconstruction work. Ongoing work on the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee would not be stopped, but a third phase of the project would not begin as scheduled.

TAXES

-- Several tax changes are in the offing, including increasing the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly by $550, delaying the full phase-in of an income tax credit benefiting manufacturers and farmers, reducing the alternative minimum tax, allowing teachers to deduct up to $250 a year for classroom expenses, and reducing taxes on hard cider. Property taxes would be held basically flat over the next two years.

PREVAILING WAGE

-- The prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum salary for construction workers on public projects like road building and schools, would be repealed for local governments. It would remain for state projects.

SENIORCARE:

-- Walker's calls to cut nearly $100 million from the popular senior citizen prescription drug program SeniorCare were rejected.

LONG-TERM CARE

-- Family Care and IRIS, programs that strive to keep elderly people and those with disabilities out of nursing homes, could be reshaped in a way that would allow for-profit managed care organizations to enter Wisconsin's market and compete with networks of nonprofit groups that currently provide long-term care and ordinary medical care. Opponents fear that would reduce options for enrollees and weaken the quality of care.

DRUG TESTS

-- Recipients of public aid programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits would have to undergo screenings for drug use that could subject them to drug tests later.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

-- The university system's budget would be cut by $250 million, it would be easier to fire tenured faculty, and faculty would have less of a role in making decisions under a weakening of the shared governance principle that national higher education experts say would make Wisconsin unique. In-state tuition would be frozen over the next two years.

HIGHER EDUCATION

-- The state will continue to look out for students attending for-profit colleges. The budget committee rejected plans to eliminate the Educational Approval Board, a 71-year-old state body that regulates for-profit institutions.

NATURAL RESOURCES

-- It will cost more to visit Wisconsin's state parks or hike along the state's trails. The budget would put an end to funding state parks with tax dollars and raise annual admission fees by $3 and daily admission fees by $1. Camping fees for residents would increase $3 to $5 per night depending on a site's popularity; fees for out-of-staters would go from $5 to $8. The Department of Natural Resources' secretary would have the discretion to raise those fees by another $5. Meanwhile, the cost of an annual trail pass would go up $5.

-- There might be more places to backpack, ski or snowshoe. Republicans rejected Walker's plan to freeze land purchases through the state's stewardship program. However, the budget committee did reduce the program's borrowing authorization for land acquisition to $9 million per year, down dramatically from $19.3 million next year and $22.2 million in each of the following fiscal years through 2020.

-- The DNR's board will still set the agency's policies. Republicans scrapped Walker's plan to strip the board of its powers and hand complete control of the agency to its secretary, a gubernatorial appointee.

-- The DNR will keep paying to remove road-kill deer on the state's highways. The budget committee rejected Walker's plan to shift carcass removal costs to local governments.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

-- Businesses looking for a state-backed loan from a regional development organization will have to keep searching for other pots of money. Republicans eliminated Walker's plan to provide $55 million in Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. grants to regional groups for loans to businesses. The committee made the move after a series of audits found WEDC has failed to track past-due loans, failed to follow state contract law and hasn't demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they've created jobs.

PRISONS

-- Prison towers would stand empty during the night. The budget eliminates 60 tower guard positions across 10 prisons to reduce third-shift staffing and save nearly $6 million. The state Department of Corrections has said anyone currently filling those positions would be moved into other vacancies.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015

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UPDATED: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 --- 6:03 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Senate has passed a rollback of the state's prevailing wage law, which sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects.

The Senate voted 17-16 on Tuesday to repeal the law for all local government projects like those done by school districts and municipalities, while keeping it in place for state projects. The changes also replace state salary levels for the federal prevailing wage scale.

Republicans argued for eliminating the prevailing wage, saying it artificially inflates salaries paid to workers at the expense of taxpayers and freezes out smaller contractors.

But Democrats and unions oppose changing the law, saying it will lower wages and hurt the middle class. Democratic Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, calls it a kick in the teeth to Wisconsin workers.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015

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UPDATED: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 --- 4:52 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Republican-controlled state Senate began debate Tuesday of the two-year state budget.

The Assembly plans to debate the budget on Wednesday, sending it on to Gov. Scott Walker later this week. Walker can use his powerful veto authority to edit or remove items in the $70 billion two-year spending plan.

Here are some highlights of how the budget affects you:

PUBLIC SCHOOLS

-- Public schools won't be cut by $127 million as Walker proposed, but they also aren't getting much more money. Funding would be flat the first year of the budget, then go up by about $69 million in the second year, but schools aren't being given the authority to increase spending over the next two years. That means if a district does get more aid, it will have to divert it to lowering property taxes unless a special referendum is approved by voters allowing spending to go up.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS

-- There will be more opportunities for students who meet income qualifications to attend private voucher schools. The 1,000-student enrollment cap in the statewide program would be lifted, with the new lid set at no more than 1 percent of a district's total students, and that would increase 1 percentage point a year for 10 years until there is no cap. Money to pay for voucher students would now come out of public school aid.

SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS

-- Students with disabilities who are denied open enrollment in another district would be able to use a taxpayer-funded voucher for private schools.

RATING SCHOOLS

-- Wisconsin schools would be rated on a five-star system, but there would be no sanctions for poor performers. The state would also seek a waiver from the federal government to allow for schools to choose between three and five standardized tests to measure student performance. Federal law currently requires schools to take the same test.

CIVICS TEST

-- High school students, starting in the 2016 school year, would have to pass a civics exam before graduation. They would have to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions in the civics section of the test required for U.S. citizenship, and they could retake the test until they pass.

SCHOOL SPORTS:

-- Home-schooled students would be able to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school. Originally, the committee had also expanded that to private, virtual and charter school students as well, but they backtracked Thursday.

TEACHER LICENSING:

-- In its last meeting Thursday, the budget committee removed a provision that would have made Wisconsin the first state in the country to allow anyone with relevant experience, including high school dropouts, to be licensed to teach noncore academic subjects in grades six through 12. They also removed a provision allowing anyone with a bachelor's degree to be licensed to teach in core subjects of English, math, social studies or science.

MILWAUKEE SCHOOLS:

-- The worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools could be converted into independent charter or private voucher schools under control of a commissioner appointed by the county executive.

TRANSPORTATION

-- Borrowing to pay for roads would be reduced from what the governor proposed by $350 million, leading to delays in major highway projects and resurfacing and reconstruction work. Ongoing work on the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee would not be stopped, but a third phase of the project would not begin as scheduled.

TAXES

-- Several tax changes are in the offing, including increasing the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly by $550, delaying the full phase-in of an income tax credit benefiting manufacturers and farmers, reducing the alternative minimum tax, allowing teachers to deduct up to $250 a year for classroom expenses, and reducing taxes on hard cider. Property taxes would be held basically flat over the next two years.

PREVAILING WAGE

-- The state Senate planned to vote on adding a provision to the budget that would repeal the prevailing wage law for local governments and scrap state salary levels for the federal prevailing wage scale. The prevailing wage sets a minimum salary for construction workers on public projects like road building and schools.

SENIORCARE:

-- Walker's calls to cut nearly $100 million from the popular senior citizen prescription drug program SeniorCare were rejected.

LONG-TERM CARE:

-- Family Care and IRIS, programs that strive to keep elderly people and those with disabilities out of nursing homes, could be reshaped in a way that would allow for-profit managed care organizations to enter Wisconsin's market and compete with networks of nonprofit groups that currently provide long-term care and ordinary medical care. Opponents fear that would reduce options for enrollees and weaken the quality of care.

DRUG TESTS

-- Recipients of public aid programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits would have to undergo screenings for drug use that could subject them to drug tests later.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

-- The university system's budget would be cut by $250 million, it would be easier to fire tenured faculty, and faculty would have less of a role in making decisions under a weakening of the shared governance principle that national higher education experts say would make Wisconsin unique. In-state tuition would be frozen over the next two years.

HIGHER EDUCATION

-- The state will continue to look out for students attending for-profit colleges. The budget committee rejected plans to eliminate the Educational Approval Board, a 71-year-old state body that regulates for-profit institutions.

NATURAL RESOURCES

-- It will cost more to visit Wisconsin's state parks or hike along the state's trails. The budget would put an end to funding state parks with tax dollars and raise annual admission fees by $3 and daily admission fees by $1. Camping fees for residents would increase $3 to $5 per night depending on a site's popularity; fees for out-of-staters would go from $5 to $8. The Department of Natural Resources' secretary would have the discretion to raise those fees by another $5. Meanwhile, the cost of an annual trail pass would go up $5.

-- There might be more places to backpack, ski or snowshoe. Republicans rejected Walker's plan to freeze land purchases through the state's stewardship program. However, the budget committee did reduce the program's borrowing authorization for land acquisition to $9 million per year, down dramatically from $19.3 million next year and $22.2 million in each of the following fiscal years through 2020.

-- The DNR's board will still set the agency's policies. Republicans scrapped Walker's plan to strip the board of its powers and hand complete control of the agency to its secretary, a gubernatorial appointee.

-- The DNR will keep paying to remove road-kill deer on the state's highways. The budget committee rejected Walker's plan to shift carcass removal costs to local governments.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

-- Businesses looking for a state-backed loan from a regional development organization will have to keep searching for other pots of money. Republicans eliminated Walker's plan to provide $55 million in Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation grants to regional groups for loans to businesses. The committee made the move after a series of audits found WEDC has failed to track past-due loans, failed to follow state contract law and hasn't demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they've created jobs.

PRISONS

-- Prison towers would stand empty during the night. The budget eliminates 60 tower guard positions across 10 prisons to reduce third-shift staffing and save nearly $6 million. The state Department of Corrections has said anyone currently filling those positions would be moved into other vacancies.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 --- 4:48 p.m.

MADISON, Wis.(AP)---The state Senate has voted to reject changes to the makeup of a committee that oversees the Wisconsin Retirement System.

The changes rejected Tuesday were first added to the budget in a last-minute amendment on Thursday night. But a strong backlash from current and retired public employees led to the Republican-controlled Senate backing off.

The proposed changes would have made all 10 members of the Joint Survey Committee on Retirement Systems come from the Legislature.

Current law, which will not change, has six lawmakers on the panel in addition to an assistant attorney general, a member of the public, the state insurance commissioner or an actuary from that office and a designee from the Department of Employee Trust funds.

Opponents worried that making all members elected officials would politicize its work.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015---4:03 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) --The Wisconsin Senate has amended the state budget to erase provisions that would dramatically scale back the open records law.

The Legislature's finance committee slipped language into the budget late Thursday night that would have shielded nearly everything state and local government officials create from the open records law. The move created so much criticism that Walker and Republican leaders announced on Saturday that the language would come out of the budget.

Senate Republicans introduced an amendment Tuesday wiping out the changes. The body added the amendment to the budget on a 33-0 vote after minority Democrats criticized the GOP for trying to cloak government in secrecy.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015----3:58 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker's spokeswoman says he was trying to encourage a process for developing policy when his office helped draft a dramatic rollback of the state's open records law.

The Legislature's finance committee slipped language into the budget late Thursday night that would have shielded nearly everything state and local government officials create from the open records law. The move created so much criticism that Walker and Republican leaders announced on Saturday that the language would come out of the budget.

Walker didn't specifically tell reporters whether his office was part of drafting the changes. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Tuesday the governor's office was involved.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email the governor's office offered input and his intent was to encourage a deliberative process for policy change and legislation.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015---3:34 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) ---The Wisconsin Senate has begun debate on the 2015-17 budget.

The debate began about four hours later than scheduled on Tuesday afternoon after Republicans and Democrats spent the middle portion of the day in meetings. The debate began with discussion about a Republican amendment that would undo language the Legislature's finance committee slipped into the budget late Thursday night that would dramatically scale back the state's open records law.

Gov. Scott Walker and Republican leaders pledged to remove the language following intense criticism from minority Democrats and open government advocates.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he would still like to update the open records statutes. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Middleton Democrat, says the rollback would only make people more cynical about government.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015---2:53 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After five months of debate and revisions, Wisconsin's full Legislature was set to vote on the 2015-17 state budget, a $70 billion spending plan that divvies up how much money state agencies receive and how they can use it.

The Wisconsin Senate has yet to convene to take up the state budget.

The body was slated to begin debate at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. The chamber convened on time, passed bills giving state troopers a 6 percent raise and denying any general wage increases for about 31,000 other state employees and recessed at 11:20 a.m. for party meetings.

The senators were initially expected to return to the floor at 1 p.m. That got pushed back to 2:30 p.m. As the clock ticked toward 3 p.m. the body still had not reconvened.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015---12:43 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After five months of debate and revisions, Wisconsin's full Legislature was set to vote on the 2015-17 state budget, a $70 billion spending plan that divvies up how much money state agencies receive and how they can use it.

Senate Republicans have prepared a budget amendment that would repeal at least a large portion of language rolling back the state's open records law.

The Legislature's finance committee added provisions to the budget Thursday that would shield nearly everything created by state and local government officials from the open record law, including drafts of legislation and staff communication. They also inserted a provision that would require records of nonviolent criminal cases where charges were dismissed prior to trial for anyone under age 25 to be deleted from the state's popular online courts site.

The moves generated a stinging backlash from open government advocates. On Saturday Gov. Scot Walker and GOP leaders said the language would be removed from the budget.

Republicans introduced the amendment Tuesday afternoon shortly before debate on the spending plan was set to begin.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 --- 11:36 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP)---The state Senate has approved a raise for state troopers and a new compensation plan for other state workers but has delayed debate on the state budget.

The Senate's Tuesday agenda included the budget, a bill that would give the troopers a 6 percent raise and a bill laying out a new two-year compensation plan for 31,000 other state workers that includes no general wage increases. Republican Gov. Scott Walker pushed through a state law in 2011 that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers over anything beyond wage increases to account for inflation. The troopers were exempted from the law.

The Senate passed the troopers' raises 33-0 with no debate and passed the compensation plan 19-14, with all 14 Democrats voting against it.

Republicans who control the chamber then recessed to continue discussing the state budget. They planned to reconvene at 1 p.m. but caucus discussions can run later than stated end times.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015---10:06 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After five months of debate and revisions, Wisconsin's full Legislature was set to vote on the 2015-17 state budget, a $70 billion spending plan that divvies up how much money state agencies receive and how they can use it.

It's not clear whether Assembly Republicans support a state budget with a prevailing wage repeal attached to it.

Republicans have been arguing among themselves about whether to include language in the budget that would repeal Wisconsin's prevailing wage law, which guarantees construction workers on public projects a minimum salary. Some conservative lawmakers have said they won't vote for the budget unless it contains some form of repeal. Both Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have said they don't have the votes to support a full repeal.

The Senate plans to attach language to the budget Tuesday that would eliminate prevailing wage requirements for only local governments. Vos said last week that he wanted to amend the budget to include the local prevailing wage repeal but his spokeswoman said Tuesday that Assembly Republicans plan to discuss the local repeal during a meeting Tuesday.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015---9:48 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After five months of debate and revisions, Wisconsin's full Legislature was set to vote on the 2015-17 state budget, a $70 billion spending plan that divvies up how much money state agencies receive and how they can use it.

The state budget isn't the only legislation the Senate is scheduled to consider Tuesday.

Lost in the budget drama is a bill that would give state troopers a 6 percent raise in exchange for higher health insurance premiums. The troopers were exempted from Gov. Scott Walker's 2011 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers over everything except raises to offset inflation but haven't gotten a raise since 2009.

Another bill on the Senate agenda would set up a new two-year compensation plan for about 31,000 other state employees. That plan contains no general wage increases. Most state workers got 1 percent raises in both 2013 and 2014.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, July 7, 2015---9:33 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After five months of debate and revisions, Wisconsin's full Legislature was set to vote on the 2015-17 state budget, a $70 billion spending plan that divvies up how much money state agencies receive and how they can use it.

The state Senate is expected to take up the state budget Tuesday morning.

The body is set to convene at 11 a.m. Republicans wrote the budget and control the Senate, but minority Democrats are expected to stall votes as long as possible. That means debate could last until late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

Senate Republicans plan to amend the budget to repeal prevailing wage requirements for local governments but keep them in place for state projects. Those requirements guarantee minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects.

Republicans have been squabbling among themselves over whether to completely eliminate the prevailing wage law but GOP leaders in both the Senate and Assembly say they don't have the votes to support a full repeal.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Monday, July 6, 2015 --- 5:49 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin Senate will take up the state budget, a 6 percent raise for state troopers and a new compensation plan for thousands of other state workers that contains no general wage increases on Tuesday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said last week that his chamber would act first on the state budget. A spokeswoman for Vos didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's spokeswoman said only that the change was made based on what she called scheduling requirements. She didn't elaborate.

Vos and Fitzgerald have been struggling over whether to add provisions to the budget that would repeal the state's prevailing wage for construction workers. Fitzgerald's spokeswoman had no comment when asked if the Senate would add a repeal on Tuesday.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015

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UPDATED: Friday, July 3, 2015 --- 7:46 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After a five-week delay, the Legislature's budget-writing committee has given final approval to a new two-year spending plan.

The Joint Finance Committee early Friday voted 12-4 with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against the $70 billion budget.

It now heads to the Senate and Assembly for debate.

The budget touches the life of nearly every person in the state.

Under the plan, funding for public schools would remain basically flat, the University of Wisconsin System would be cut by $250 million, in-state tuition would be frozen and property taxes would remain basically flat.

Taxes paid by married couples would go down and government officials would be largely exempt from the open records law under changes approved Thursday.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015

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UPDATED: Thursday, July 2, 2015 --- 4:38 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- After a five-week delay, the Legislature's budget-writing committee is close to final approval of a new two-year spending plan.

The Joint Finance Committee on Thursday neared a vote that would send the $70 billion budget on to the state Assembly on Tuesday. It's unclear when the Senate will take it up.

The Republican-controlled committee on Thursday voted to reduce borrowing for road projects from $1.3 billion to about $850 million. It also voted to make a series of tax changes, including cutting taxes for married couples and high earners subject to the alternative minimum tax.

Those tax cuts would be paid for in part by delaying the full phase-in of an income tax credit for manufacturers and farmers.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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Posted Thursday, July 2, 2015---1:14 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The two-year state budget up for passage Thursday by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee is expected to be taken up by the Assembly on Tuesday. It's unknown when the Senate will vote on it. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday that he does not have the votes for the budget in its current form.

Once passed by the Legislature it will go to Gov. Scott Walker, who can sign it or veto items he opposes. The Legislature has the option to override Walker's vetoes, or those items could be removed from the budget.

Here are some highlights of how the budget affects you:

PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Public schools won't be cut by $127 million as Walker proposed, but they also aren't getting much more money. Funding would be flat the first year of the budget, then go up by about $69 million in the second year, but schools aren't being given the authority to increase spending over the next two years. That means if a district does get more aid, it will have to divert it to lowering property taxes unless a special referendum is approved by voters allowing spending to go up.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS
There will be more opportunities for students who meet income qualifications to attend private voucher schools. The 1,000-student enrollment cap in the statewide program would be lifted, with the new lid set at no more than 1 percent of a district's total students, and that would increase 1 percentage point a year for 10 years until there is no cap. Money to pay for voucher students would now come out of public school aid.

SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS
Students with disabilities who are denied open enrollment in another district would be able to use a taxpayer-funded voucher for private schools.

RATING SCHOOLS
Wisconsin schools would be rated on a five-star system, but there would be no sanctions for poor performers. The state would also seek a waiver from the federal government to allow for schools to choose between three and five standardized tests to measure student performance. Federal law currently requires schools to take the same test.

CIVICS TEST
High school students, starting in the 2016 school year, would have to pass a civics exam before graduation. They would have to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions in the civics section of the test required for U.S. citizenship, and they could retake the test until they pass.

SCHOOL SPORTS:
Home-schooled students, and those attending private, virtual or charter schools, would be able to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school.

TEACHER LICENSING:
Wisconsin would be the first state in the country to allow anyone with relevant experience, including high school dropouts, to be licensed to teach non-core academic subjects in grades six through 12. Anyone with a bachelor's degree could be licensed to teach in core subjects of English, math, social studies or science. The decision on whether to hire someone with the alternative certification would be up to the school district, including private schools that accept voucher students and independent charter schools. Republicans were expected to change this before final passage to require at least a high school degree to teach, and limit them to part-time only.

MILWAUKEE SCHOOLS:
The worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools could be converted into independent charter or private voucher schools under control of a commissioner appointed by the county executive.

TRANSPORTATION
Borrowing to pay for roads would be reduced from what the governor proposed by $350 million, leading to delays in major highway projects and resurfacing and reconstruction work. Ongoing work on the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee would not be stopped, but a third phase of the project would not begin as scheduled.

TAXES
Several tax changes are in the offing, including increasing the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly by $550, delaying the full phase-in of an income tax credit benefiting manufacturers and farmers, reducing the alternative minimum tax, allowing teachers to deduct up to $250 a year for classroom expenses, and reducing taxes on hard cider.

SENIORCARE:
Walker's calls to cut nearly $100 million from the popular senior citizen prescription drug program SeniorCare were rejected.

LONG-TERM CARE:
Family Care and IRIS, programs that strive to keep elderly people and those with disabilities out of nursing homes, could be reshaped in a way that would allow for-profit managed care organizations to enter Wisconsin's market and compete with networks of nonprofit groups that currently provide long-term care and ordinary medical care. Opponents fear that would reduce options for enrollees and weaken the quality of care.

DRUG TESTS
Recipients of public aid programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits would have to undergo screenings for drug use that could subject them to drug tests later.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
The university system's budget would be cut by $250 million, it would be easier to fire tenured faculty, and faculty would have less of a role in making decisions under a weakening of the shared governance principle that national higher education experts say would make Wisconsin unique. In-state tuition would be frozen over the next two years.

HIGHER EDUCATION
The state will continue to look out for students attending for-profit colleges. The budget committee rejected plans to eliminate the Educational Approval Board, a 71-year-old state body that regulates for-profit institutions.

NATURAL RESOURCES
It will cost more to visit Wisconsin's state parks or hike along the state's trails. The budget would put an end to funding state parks with tax dollars and raise annual admission fees by $3 and daily admission fees by $1. Camping fees for residents would increase $3 to $5 per night depending on a site's popularity; fees for out-of-staters would go from $5 to $8. The Department of Natural Resources' secretary would have the discretion to raise those fees by another $5. Meanwhile, the cost of an annual trail pass would go up $5.

There might be more places to backpack, ski or snowshoe. Republicans rejected Walker's plan to freeze land purchases through the state's stewardship program. However, the budget committee did reduce the program's borrowing authorization for land acquisition to $9 million per year, down dramatically from $19.3 million next year and $22.2 million in each of the following fiscal years through 2020.

The DNR's board will still set the agency's policies. Republicans scrapped Walker's plan to strip the board of its powers and hand complete control of the agency to its secretary, a gubernatorial appointee.

The DNR will keep paying to remove road-kill deer on the state's highways. The budget committee rejected Walker's plan to shift carcass removal costs to local governments.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Businesses looking for a state-backed loan from a regional development organization will have to keep searching for other pots of money. Republicans eliminated Walker's plan to provide $55 million in Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation grants to regional groups for loans to businesses. The committee made the move after a series of audits found WEDC has failed to track past-due loans, failed to follow state contract law and hasn't demanded proof from grant and loan recipients that they've created jobs.

PRISONS
Prison towers would stand empty during the night. The budget eliminates 60 tower guard positions across 10 prisons to reduce third-shift staffing and save nearly $6 million. The state Department of Corrections has said anyone currently filling those positions would be moved into other vacancies.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press