By Kirsten Adshead and Alissa Smith Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The state Assembly passed the $66-billion biennial budget at about 3 a.m. Thursday after 13 hours of intense debate, on a 60-38 vote that split the chamber along party lines.
The Senate is expected to start its budget debate at 11 a.m. today.
The debate was long, the rhetoric harsh and the accusations plentiful when the Wisconsin Assembly finally convened Wednesday afternoon — a full day after the discussion was scheduled to begin.
Everyone, though, walked into the chamber knowing the bill ultimately would pass, largely as is, even as hours of debate rolled on.
Democrats accused Republicans of supporting policies that will allow sex offenders to teach children, because a proposed expansion of vouchers doesn’t require voucher schools to conduct background checks for voucher schools.
Republicans accused Democrats of financial mismanagement in previous sessions, such as passing tax hikes, including for businesses, on the people of Wisconsin.
And both sides accused each other of pushing proposals as paybacks for campaign donors.
When Democrats introduced a wide-reaching amendment that would restore funding to public schools while, in part, nixing provisions for expanding the school vouchers program, speakers argued that Republicans were rewarding school-voucher proponents who made campaign contributions.
State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, responded: “I did not take the time to look at how much (the state teachers union Wisconsin Education Association Council) gave to all of you to guarantee that you would offer amendments like this.”
Vos then said school districts beyond Milwaukee have problems — notably Racine, where Republicans hope to allow vouchers.
State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, took offense to what he said would be $25 million in cuts to the Racine school district, proposed by Republicans who say they are trying to help.
“Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining,” Mason said. “That is just insulting to the people I represent.”
Debate on the education amendment continued for about an hour — and ended, as expected, with the GOP majority tabling the minority party’s amendment — a process expected to be repeated throughout the night as Democrats were expected to roll out dozens of amendments.
Lawmakers alternatively listened, laughed, frowned or let their attention drift away as the debate wore on, with the discussion’s facilitator Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, asking lawmakers to keep their speeches short.
“After two minutes, there are very few people who are listening to you anymore,” Kramer said.
But even the changes Republicans planned to support, such as killing a proposed expansion of vouchers to Green Bay, were well known before the debate began.
While Democrats called the budget an attack on middle-class families that includes $800 million in cuts to schools, Republicans say it is the first responsible budget in years.
“We said it’s time for government to go on a diet, and that’s exactly what we do in this budget,” Vos said.
Even the protests Wednesday were lackluster.
Unlike the collective bargaining rallies that brought tens of thousands of protesters to Madison in February and March, protesters Wednesday measured in the hundreds.
That followed what was anticipated to be the big rally day Tuesday, when Capitol police estimated a peak of 2,500 protesters.
Law enforcement said four arrests were made Wednesday — three people were removed from the Assembly Gallery for disorderly conduct, and one person was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia while coming through screening.